By Andrew Rosario
Miami, Fla.- Major League Baseball celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues last year. While the powers that be try and figure out why the number of African American baseball players decline every year, there is one aspect that has not been addressed. The number of African American and Latino sports journalist who are denied press credentials to cover teams in a league where the majority of players are of color. Baseball is not the only sport dealing with this issue. Walk through the locker rooms of both football and basketball and you can count on one hand the number of print, radio and television journalist of color.
The most common excuse given by the teams when denying credentials to media outlets that are comprised of African American and Latino staff is “due to the number of requests, we are unable to issue credentials to your organization.” Many of those media outlets have been covering teams in their cities for years and at one point were granted season credentials on a regular basis. With the explosion of sports talk radio, sports television, internet programs and blogs, team public relation departments have been inundated with request. As the number Asian players have increased in Major Leagues baseball, the number of Asian media granted credentials has gone through the roof with the African American and Latino media left out in the cold. The number of Asian photographers granted credentials has also reduced the number of minority photographers. What is most discouraging is that many of the credentials are granted to outlets that have nowhere near the history of the local minority media.
Recently, after 23 years (37 total years) of covering sports as a New York Post columnist, George Willis’ contract was not renewed. Soon after, his very first column for his new group (The New York Extra/The NYExtra.com) was titled: Sports Media Must Take A Serious Look in the Mirror. In it, Willis takes on sports departments at newspapers, on-line websites and the editors in charge saying, “those in charge of hiring need to take a timeout and ask themselves whether they’re going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Right now, the lack of diversity-real diversity- in sports journalism is appalling and getting worse.” Willis went on to cite a 2016 ASNE Diversity Survey showing the overall minority workforce at daily print and on-line organizations was 17 percent. 5.3 were listed as African American. “It’s only gotten worse with fewer newspapers and fewer job,” he wrote.
Which brings us on the eve of Major League Baseball opening up the 2021 season after a shortened 2020 year due to the Coronavirus/Covid19 pandemic. The league announced that may ballparks including Yankee Stadium and Citi Field will allow up to 20% capacity. The Texas Rangers took it a step further saying they will open their gates to full capacity. Teams during spring training allowed minimal media coverage. Pre and post-game interviews were done virtually. Prior to the pandemic, the media was allowed locker-room access before and after the games. The majority of the writers granted credentials to cover the teams this year will be, guess what, not African American or Latino.
I began covering the New York Yankees as a beat writer for the New York Beacon in 1998. The head of public relations at the time, Rick Cerrone, granted every request for credentials which included season credentials. As a lifelong Yankees fan and Bronx kid, l was thrilled to be in San Diego when the Yankees swept the Padres. Until he left the organization, Mr. Cerrone made sure l was informed when press conferences were announced not only during the season but in the off season as well. After his departure, Mr. Jason Zillo was elevated to head of public relation. Mr. Zillo was an intern under Mr. Cerrone my first year covering the team. Covering spring training in 2006 and after conducting an interview with pitcher Andy Pettitte, I approached Mr. Zillo to thank him for giving me access to Pettitte also telling him l was looking forward to the upcoming season. Mr. Zillo responded, “we’re not going to need that much coverage this year. We’ll take it on a game-by-game basis.” I was stunned based on the relationship l had established with the organization.
I moved on from the New York Beacon prior to the start of the 2006 season and recommended my good friend and head sports photographer Marc Rasbury take over as Sports Editor. Mr. Rasbury expressed his frustration to me as credentials were denied more than they were approved. Mr. Rasbury asked Mr. Zillo why that was. Mr. Zillo replied, “the New York Yankees do not need black press.” Mr. Rasbury continued to request credentials and was lucky to get approved once a month. Mr. Rasbury passed away in November of 2016. I was asked to return as sports editor which l gladly accepted.
Since then, all of my request submitted through the MLB website for credentials have been denied. Still, the New York Beacon continued to cover the Yankees during the regular and post season. The denial email stated, “as you are aware, we receive a large number of requests from countless media entries. We unfortunately will be unable to grant you credentials.” During one home game, I asked a fellow media member to send me a photo of the press box. There were at least a dozen unoccupied seats. This was three years ago. Prior to the start of that year, I informed Mr. Zillo I would be in Tampa to cover spring training. Mr. Zillo asked me to supply hard copies and links of New York Yankees articles. I dropped off the hard copy articles at the spring training facility and forwarded the links via email. To no avail. Every credential request continued to be denied. I did the same thing prior to the 2019 season, this time dropping off hard copy articles to Mr. Zillo and President/General Manager Brian Cashman showing Yankees articles. Not one request was granted. My request for spring training credentials this past week was denied.
By happenstance in January of 2020, l saw Mr. Zillo walking towards Yankee Stadium as l was on my way home. Mr. Zillo recognized me. I stopped him, extended my hand and wished him a Happy New Year. I said I am looking forward to the upcoming season. Mr. Zillo replied, “Andrew l don’t like what you have been saying about me,” as he walked away.
The New York Yankees open up the 2021 season today. I will be requesting credentials not expecting them to be granted. This time, Mr. Zillo will use the Coronavirus/Covid19 excuse to deny credentials. Only Mr. Zillo knows the real reason why the New York Beacon, the largest circulated African American weekly newspaper in the Tri-State area, continues to be denied.
This past December, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that stats for about 3,400 Negro League baseball players from 1920 thru 1948 will become part of Major League Baseball history. That is all well and good. Commissioner Manfred now needs to look at the make-up of the journalist covering teams as well as the individuals in charge of issuing credentials.