Sunday, September 14, 2014

Baseball. Boys. Sunflower seeds. A field. And dreams.

The Sweet Season

Part IV
Miles from Williamsport, Pa., where Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West baseball team recently captured the national Little League World Series title, each year boys—and girls—play the game on local diamonds in seasons filled with life's lessons, with hopes and dreams.

We, the media, keep missing the story
This is the fourth and final part of the series
Page-one pathology. Front-page fatalism. Ten o’clock neuroses. Murderers, muggers, robbers, rapists, we are. The number-one suspect. Societal menace. Thug. Heartless. Criminal. Or so goes the portrait of black American males that too often fuels the American news media engine and the perceptions about black males. Ours is the mug shot below the headlines.
Ours the soulless brown eyes staring back without remorse. Too often, ours is the story of our supposed propensity toward criminality in a world in which a racist and unfair justice system holds different rules and different outcomes for males of color.
Ours a jaded portrayal overall by the media at large who help make every black male, all 19.9 million of us—even in a “post-racial” America—all potentially guilty by genetic association.
America’s most hated. Most wanted. Most feared.

Too often the stories that pepper the platter of daily American journalism dwell on what is wrong with some of us, rather than on that which is right with the majority of us. Rather than on stories like the story of the south suburban Matteson/Olympia Fields Cubs I covered this summer.
The image of black males is reduced to stories about homicidal hittas, about gang “chiefs” and murderous drug dealers. Immortalized in notoriousness by a mainstream press whose “first draft of history” mostly misses the true and more complete story of black male life.
Unless you happen to be a blue chip athlete; millionaire rap mogul; Hollywood movie star; a rags-to-riches success; or an intellectual genius.
But we the news media miss, neglect, or ignore the middle ground—that space between the ends of the spectrum where most of life is lived in America. All the while embracing the scales of fairness and balance in one hand and the lens of objectivity in the other.
We the news media are part of the problem, symbolized—even 46 years since the Kerner Commission report, which called for diversity within the news media—by the glaring absence of people of color in American newsrooms and in key editorial decision-making positions. Mostly, it is crystalized by the media’s lack of parity concerning our portrayal.
I’m not saying don’t report the news, the truth. Only that we need to report the whole truth. To strike a balance in the stories we produce about black males—about black life in general.
I’m saying that there exists a treasure trove of stories to be written about functional black life. Stories of so many good men and women—coaches, teachers and parents—living by the rules and playing by the rules, and making a real difference.
Whether that narrative framework is academics or sports, or something else, the news media have a moral obligation to go out and find and then tell those stories. And the public has a right to demand it.
Recently, I too celebrated the success, poise and character of the Jackie Robinson West All Stars—the little boys who captured our hearts and this year’s Little League World Series national title. It was refreshing to see their brown faces—their positive images—in the media, even if I know they had to achieve the almost impossible dream to receive such ink and public light.
I also understand that there are so many others like them. Men like Kelvin Oliver and George “Kirby” Green whose Cubs this summer found baseball and coaching a vehicle for teaching little boys lessons for life.
I asked Oliver, who has coached baseball for many years, what his greatest moment or season of coaching has been. He spoke about some other good seasons in the past, of boys he has had the privilege of coaching but who now are grown, including his own son. There is nothing like coaching your own son, he assured, reflecting. Then he paused.
“They’re all my sons,” he said.
They are his. And mine and every other man willing to stand up to help these boys within our community and beyond, who, without our help, just might be lost. Boys like those I had the privilege to meet while covering The Sweet Season.
Good boys. Not a menace among them. And a more hopeful portrait of black life in America.