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Learning About Racism And Privilege As A White Sports Reporter

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Jun. 30 2020, Published 3:07 a.m. ET

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I never thought I’d be a sports reporter.

Don’t get me wrong, I grew up playing sports and was pretty athletic. I also spent countless weekends watching football with my family. However, that love for sports was not on my radar as a career path. At least not until I attended the University of Utah.

College is where I began to find myself. To that point, I was a shy, introverted girl. To this day that remains true on some level. My goal in life was to fly under the radar. I wanted to stay out of everyone’s way and go unnoticed.  Then I met someone who introduced me to a world of possibilities. That person happened to be a football player.

Growing Up In Utah

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Growing up in Salt Lake City and specifically on the east side of the valley, there isn’t a ton of diversity. What I really mean is Black people. In high school, I was easily one of the “most exotic looking” students with dark, wavy hair, a decent tan, and brown eyes. Most people in Utah more or less look the same with blonde hair and blue eyes. Having a successful Black athlete take a personal interest in me was never something I imagined would happen.

Two things were striking about the friendship. First was this man grew up in South Central, Los Angeles and his experience growing up was much different from anyone I knew. I remember being transfixed by his life story. I also remember having to Google the 1992 L.A. Riots because I was never taught about it in history class and it sounded important as he described it.

After meeting my friend, I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool it would be to tell sports stories like his. At that time, I was a psychology major with ambitions of working in the justice system, not covering sports. Where he was from and everything he went through to get a college education was fascinating to me.

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The other remarkable part of this friendship was my friend felt compelled to scold me for wasting my potential being a wallflower. My entire life I had failed to acknowledge talents that he quickly recognized in me. It’s safe to say without that figurative slap in the face, I wouldn’t be writing this story now.

Finding My Voice

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12 years later, I’m more understanding, and compassionate. I never lacked those skills, but I did lack knowledge about anything outside of Utah. Thanks to my career, I’ve spent hours researching different places, their histories, and meeting people I never would have otherwise.

The beauty of sports is they can open doors to appreciate another’s perspective, but there has to be a willingness to listen and learn. Now I can tell you about the L.A. Riots, but also the 1921 Tulsa Massacre and the decline of West Baltimore among other places and things.  Most importantly, I have a constructive platform to share these experiences and knowledge with others.

We currently live in a time where humanity has the chance to affect change like it never has before. Many of these are changes that should’ve taken place at least 50 years ago. Since meeting my friend, I recognize the power in my ability to listen and construct a story. My voice counts and it can educate. I understand better than ever not using that talent is a betrayal of trust to the men who’ve told me their stories in good faith.

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Through seven years working in sports, I have walked through an angry mob yelling racist remarks while spitting at players of color outside their locker room. I’ve witnessed a Super Bowl Champion have the cost of his drink pointed out to him though it was clearly printed in the menu he ordered from. I’ve heard conversations about athletes deemed not as smart as their white counterparts, which was far from the truth.

It’s easy to dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement in Utah because there aren’t a lot of Black residents. It’s hard to understand systemic racism when there isn’t much diversity in the population. However, I’ve had the opportunity to see it. Hear it. Be a part of it in my own way within the sports community.

Through seven years working in sports, I have walked through an angry mob yelling racist remarks while spitting at players of color outside their locker room. I’ve witnessed a Super Bowl Champion have the cost of his drink pointed out to him though it was clearly printed in the menu he ordered from. I have watched dedicated people work their butt off attaining higher education to be passed for jobs they are more than qualified to do. I’ve heard conversations about athletes deemed not as smart as their white counterparts, which was far from the truth.

I share this because it’s how we solve the problem. And yes, it’s a problem even if it doesn’t affect your life directly. By being open about what I have experienced covering sports I hope there will be better conversations and more empathy. It’s a small contribution, but I believe when you are given a gift, even one as simple as confidence, there is a responsibility to pay it forward.

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By: Michelle Bodkin

Michelle Bodkin is a seasoned sports communications professional in Salt Lake City primarily covering the University of Utah Athletics and Pac-12 Conference for 247.com. She also had a stint with the short-lived Alliance of American Football league as the coach’s assistant for Dennis Erickson of the Salt Lake Stallions.Her specialty is writing features on athletes who have overcome particularly hard circumstances to perform at the highest athletic levels. Her degree in psychology and sociology has allowed her to build trust with her interview subjects and tell their stories with unique perspective on current societal events.

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