Changing the Game

Harrison Mooney, Vancouver Sun reporter, co-creator of Pass it to Bulis.

Meet the new (diverse) faces of sports journalism

By Max Fossey

Growing up in Abbotsford, Harrison Mooney remembers seeing his mother reading the Vancouver Sun cover to cover every morning. From an early age, he says, he knew he wanted to be a writer and work for the paper so popular with his parents.

Still, Mooney decided not to pursue a journalism degree; instead, he went to the University of Fraser Valley, where he graduated with an English degree. After some graduate work at Trinity Western University, he launched, along with college friend Daniel Wagner, the Pass It To Bulis blog, focused on the Vancouver Canucks.

“Within two years, we were running the blog for the Vancouver Sun,” says Mooney. “At the end of our second year, I got hired at the Sun as a web editor. But it was never really my plan to end up here.”

Mooney—who self-identifies as black—says that “standing out” has been an issue throughout his life. And while he credits the Sun with progressive attitudes towards race, Mooney says that a lack of diversity is still an issue.

“This is a newspaper that represents one of the most diverse regions in the world,” says Mooney. “You shouldn’t look around our newsroom and see only white faces, or mostly white faces.”

Diversity has been a hot topic in newsrooms around North America, but it’s particularly relevant in the sports departments—which, more than most, are still dominated by older, white men. Recent controversies surrounding hockey commentator Don Cherry—and his views on immigrants, which ultimately forced him out of the Hockey Night in Canada hosting chair—only accentuated the diversity problem.

For Halifax native Shireen Ahmed—a freelance sports writer and co-host of the Burn It All Down podcast—racism reared its ugly head early on. When Ahmed was 11 years old, she was racially attacked by an opponent on the soccer field. The referee ended up ejecting Ahmed, despite not hearing or seeing what the opponent had done. “It wasn’t the first time I had been racially abused,” says Ahmed. “But it was the first time I had been racially abused in a sports context.”

Photo provided by Shireen Ahmed.

That experience stayed with Ahmed, and informs the journalist she is today. Ahmed believes that having a different racial perspective is really invaluable as a journalist. “We are taught to think that having biases makes us not good journalists, which is totally untrue,” she says. “Lived experience counts for something.”

Joon Lee is another sports journalist who has had to confront issues of race and racism throughout his young career. The 24-year-old writer, who works for ESPN, moved with his family to Boston from Seoul when he was two months old. Lee says that sports journalism was something he wanted to do professionally from the moment he entered college, but getting to where he is now was a bumpy path.

“All of the emotional stuff that you have to deal with, like dealing with some people being insensitive with race and just how they talk about it, [is difficult]” he says. Lee thinks that the more bylines, TV appearances and radio spots featuring racialized sports journalists, the easier it will be to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

Photo provided by Joon Lee.

For Lee, one of his proudest moments—what he calls a “full-circle moment”—came two years ago, when he got to go to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

“I never expected to have the opportunity to report in Korean, seeing Chloe Kim, a fellow Korean-American, win the gold for the United States,” says Lee. To be there, in person, “was an incredibly emotional experience.”

As far as Harrison Mooney is concerned, the value of having more diversity in the sports department is that it often delivers more diversity in the journalism: “You’re looking for the stuff that isn’t getting covered, the insight that’s not being expressed—and the angles and perspectives that aren’t being elevated.”

Other notable Sports journalists of colour

Rick Dhaliwal

Sports radio host and Insider at TSN 1040

Born in New Westminster, Dhaliwal loved sports and growing up and has over 25 years of experience in broadcasting. He is of South Asian descent Dhaliwal is mostly known for breaking news for the Vancouver Canucks as well as the BC Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps. He has over 19,000 followers on Twitter. Dhaliwal believes there is a lot of diversity in sports media “There are no shortage of immigrants in the media, there is lots and lots of them,” said Dhaliwal.

Mina Kimes

Senior Writer at ESPN and host of the ESPN Daily Podcast

Kimes was born in Omaha, Nebraska and is half Korean. (from her mother’s side) Before becoming a sports writer, she was an award winning investigative and business journalist previously writing for Bloomberg News and Fortune Magazine. An avid fan of the Seattle Seahawks, Kimes writes profiles and lighthearted pieces on young athletes and is known for her humour on Twitter where she has over 400,000 followers.

Randip Janda

Host, Sportsnet 650 and Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi

The Vancouver native grew up loving sports at a young age and is the host of Sportsnet 650’s afternoon radio show “Reach Deep” with co-host Dan Riccio. He also interviews players at the intermissions for Canucks games on Sportsnet and is a studio analyst to Hockey Night in Canada’s punjabi broadcasts. Janda was also an assignment editor for OMNI news.

Stephen A. Smith

One of the most famous sports journalists in the world. Smith has over 25 years of experience working in print, television and radio. He was born in the Bronx to parents from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Smith has overcome the colour barrier to become ESPN’s highest paid commentator with eight million dollars a year. Smith is known for his loud voice, rants and his arguments with his colleagues on ESPN’s First Take. He also makes frequent appearances on Sportscenter and ESPN’s NBA coverage.

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