Announcers

Black broadcasters and play-by-players deserve better; Gumble won’t be back on NCAA Tourney

BLACKS ARE NOT GETTING THEIR DUES

david halberstam round profile
        Halberstam

In the summer of 2020, the Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest expansion franchise, announced that Everett Fitzhugh is being hired as the team’s broadcaster.

There was no precise assignment then. Would he do regular TV or radio? Fitzhugh was doing minor league hockey in Cincinnati when surprisingly he got a call from Seattle management about a year before the first puck would drop. The market had lost its NBA franchise, the Supersonics, to Oklahoma City in 2008. There was a winter void in town.

Everett, a Black man from the Midwest got the gig. He himself couldn’t believe it. The news of Fitzhugh’s appointment made a splash across America because he is the first Black to call the NHL. John Forslund, who did national work for NBC’s hockey coverage as well as the league’s Carolina Hurricanes. He is now Seattle’s television announcer and right on the play. Fitzhugh was assigned radio and has gotten rave reviews during his first couple years.

Fitzhugh knows and loves the NHL. He’s easygoing, tranquil and composed. Seattle fans apparently embrace him immediately.

Nationally, hiring of local announcers, rarely merit much attention. But Fitzhugh’s did, because he called games sufficiently with a gracious delivery. He broke the national NHL color barrier. There are a handful of Black announcers doing NHL studio work in the United States and Canada. Yet at the team play-by-play level, it was a major breakthrough.

Fitzhugh’s appointment and glowing reviews stimulated a deeper dive. We took separate looks at the different sports and juxtaposed them. What are the percentage of Black broadcasters per sport vs. the percentage of Black athletes within the sport. These are some numerical estimates which we will share.

We looked at MLB, NHL, NBA and the NFL. As you’d suspect there’s a dizzying gap. Other than analysts who are generally made-up of former players or coaches, Blacks are terribly underrepresented in mainstream roles of play-by-players. Fitzhugh’s promotion to the first fulltime NHL play-by-player says a ton but there’s a long way to go.

Our search reaffirmed that no DI college football team has ever hired a Black person to call play-by-play on its radio broadcasts. 

SUPER BOWL

Other than Greg Gumbel who did two Super Bowls on TV in 2001 and 2004, no Black man has ever called . 

Furthermore, no Black person has ever served as an analyst on any Super Bowl telecast, none, of the 57 played to date.

The fairest representation of Blacks, men and women, has been in the studio. The next SB is on February 11, 2024. The scheduled team is Jim Nantz, Tony Rome and Tracy Wolfson.

Bill White was the first local voice ever…on New York Yankees Baseball

The New York Yankees were the first team to hire a Black play-by-play announcer. It didn’t happen magically. Bill White played for three teams, the Giants, the Cardinals and Phillies. In his final active years on the field, he moonlighted as a broadcaster to get some reps in St. Louis. One of the fellows who urged him to try broadcasting was Harry Caray. When Bill hung up his cleats, he was ready. (White – left)

Howard Cosell convinced the Yankees to hire White in 1971. He proceeded to have a two-decade career as a play-by-play voice. White worked at the craft and turned into a real good broadcaster. The scooter was quite popular when matched with Phil Rizzuto in New York.

A young consortium was formed for a blueprint and a program rolled out to grow opportunities for minorities. Bottom line, sports broadcasting has exploded. Dollars have skyrocketed. Vendors are over-the-air, regional cable, national cable, streaming and on so many other broadcast platforms. But Blacks haven’t been fairly included in sportscasting’s broadcasting growth. It should be addressed.

Streaming should broaden the growth of play-by-play and broadcast opportunities in the decades ahead. These increased reps of streaming should open doors for budding students.

Blacks also need to push hard for a sense of community at-large; Voices need a chip in spirited participation, particularly as it comes to play-by-play jobs. Broadcast schools like Syracuse should work the Black communities than it does now. It’s the lead broadcast school.

Mike Tirico is an alumnus of Syracuse and is considered a prominent broadcaster. He’ll rarely if ever enrich himself, while engaging others. You would hope that there would be greater support from within and ultimately engagement with decision-makers.

You’d hope it would result in a productive minority presence. ESPN’s Mark Jones, is among the very best of play-by-players. Gus Johnson can stimulate America when he’s on.

Greg Gumble has negotiated to remain with CBS during the opening of the tourney. But apparently he has health problems. (Richard Deitsch of The Atlantic broke this story.)

 

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
1 month ago

Interesting bit of trivia: The first Black commentator on a major sport could have been with the Dodgers. When Roy Campanella was injured, Walter O’Malley told him he could have any job in the organization, and mentioned broadcasting. I think Campy would have been GREAT. But imagine Vin having an analyst with him on radio? I don’t know.