With a large projection screen displaying the latest on the Don Imus controversy as his backdrop, New York Times reporter Bill Rhoden’s Tuesday discussion at the School of Communication took on a new subject in light of current events.
Originally planned to be a question and answer session for students interested in how to break into sports reporting, Rhoden’s time morphed into a discussion of the situation between the Rutgers women’s basketball team and radio host Don Imus’ comments.
“Things happen on the spot, you have to be very loose,” Rhoden said, surrendering a good portion of his time to Rutgers University’s press conference. “We have to deal with the news of the day.”
The news of the day was Rutgers University’s women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer’s passionate response to Imus’ controversial on-air comments that her players were “nappy-headed hoes.”
Taking a seat in the second row of Shojaee Hall, Rhoden watched the press conference, taking in every word Stringer said. When her remarks concluded, Rhoden took the floor and denounced Imus’ actions.
“I don’t like bigotry and I have no tolerance for [bigots]. I don’t like bigots,” Rhoden said. “Sometimes as journalists we get so wrapped up in the story we forget what we stand for.”
Rhoden had his own verbal altercation with Imus in 1999 after writing a column criticizing the shock jock’s tactics.
In response, Imus called Rhoden “a New York Times quota hire.”
During his remarks, Rhoden referenced the perpetual racism that is still felt in the sports industry 60 years after Jackie Robinson became the first African-American baseball player.
“In 2007, I am one of two of three African Americans in the press box,” Rhoden said. “In sports, desperation trumps morale. When you prove you can bring in ratings, the more stuff you can do.”
Rhoden attributed Imus’ success as the sole reason he received a two-week suspension from airwaves as opposed to being taken off the air indefinitely. At the time of publication Wednesday, he had lost several sponsors and MSNBC dropped their simulcast of his show.
“We have become anesthetized to hurt feelings,” Rhoden said. “That is why Imus said what he said.”
For Rhoden, Imus’ remarks were not simply racist, they were derogatory towards all women.
Before the Rutgers’s press conference began, Rhoden stood in front of 200 students to read from Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Moments later, Stringer was on national television emphasizing the same point that Rhoden was alluding to: Imus’ comments were not just offensive to black women, but to all women who worked hard to achieve success.
“The Imus thing will die down. The challenge for all of us is, ‘At what point do you get ahead of the curve?'” Rhoden said. “What will we know in 20 years that I need to know now?”
Michael Viera may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.