ESPN Praised for Playing Fair

Sep 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

When ESPN covered the Michael Vick dog-fighting story late this summer, the network engaged the news not just as a pivotal sports story but also as an issue of race.
In “Outside the Lines” and other shows, the sports network included African American experts to discuss whether Mr. Vick was treated fairly by the media, said Ed Durso, executive VP for administration, who is responsible for diversity programs at ESPN.
That’s because a commitment to diversity doesn’t just come in head count, he said. It comes in ensuring that a network is cognizant of how issues of race can permeate on-air coverage as well.
That doesn’t mean race was an issue in Mr. Vick’s situation or the coverage of it; it simply means that to cover Mr. Vick fairly, the network had to conduct a dialogue on race.
“We recognize there are issues. When you survey people on O.J. Simpson, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, ‘were they treated fairly’ is a question you have to address,” Mr. Durso said.
ESPN is receiving the Diversity Champion Award at the annual Kaitz Dinner this week. The award recognizes the network’s work both behind the scenes and on-air in diversity.
“Diversity has been a key component of our mission and values for many years,” Mr. Durso said. That includes how issues of race are treated on-air by the sports journalists, but it also includes the fact that ESPN offers a network such as ESPN Deportes, catering to a Spanish-speaking audience.
In addition, virtually every ESPN employee participates in diversity training programs. “We have had initiatives around diversity for many years, but we began to institutionalize with the establishment of a diversity office in our organization a few years ago,” Mr. Durso said.
The network offers seminars for top leaders, employees and outside consultants on diversity and the value it brings to the organization. “We put our entire company through exposure to the subjects, and what it has done is raised the capability of our company to think about, speak about and understand issues of gender and race in our business and workplace,” he said. “We have elevated the level of dialogue, the level of understanding, the sophistication with which we can address these subjects.”
That includes internal meetings where editors at ESPN the Magazine discuss, for example, whether the publication is giving Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts his due as a coach in the National Football League to the same degree that it gives a white coach. “Are we influenced at all by one being white and one being black?” Mr. Durso asked. “The consumers of ESPN over-index in the African American community. They are among our best users, and we need to be able to speak to those communities as effectively as we can.”
The network recently announced the creation of a new diversity council and is establishing employee resource groups to address issues of concern to the gay and lesbian community and other diverse populations.
There is more work to be done, Mr. Durso said. He wants to challenge the company to continue to improve its diversity numbers and to be as representative of diversity as possible.

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