The Tipoff, Unusual Times Could Lead to Positive Change

To understate the obvious, this is an unusual time to become the new president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

Normally, the gavel is passed from the outgoing to incoming presidents at our Final Four awards luncheon. Alas, there was no luncheon this year because there was no Final Four. It is regrettable that my predecessor, Mike Waters, did not get the sendoff he deserved. My intention is to be sure that is remedied next April in Indianapolis, where we will recognize both the 2020 and '21 award winners and Hall of Fame inductees. That feels like a looong way off, but a new president can hope, can't he?

There is cause for optimism as we see many schools planning to bring back their students to campus this fall, which clears the way for college sports to resume. Many of those scenarios call for either no fans or a limited number, which raises the question of whether and how the media will be permitted to do our jobs. Safety should always be the primary concern, but the USBWA must be vigilant to ensure that our needs and those of our audience are accounted for in these decisions. I intend to be highly engaged in these conversations, and I can unequivocally report that we have many willing partners amongst the ranks or coaches and sports information directors, not to mention the NCAA's Dan Gavitt and David Worlock.

It has been especially disheartening to see how the COVID 19 pandemic has impacted our industry. Many friends and colleagues have been laid off since the outbreak. It has always been a part of the USBWA's mission to facilitate networking and job opportunities, but as president I plan to make it a top priority to find ways to strengthen our ability to do so. I welcome all suggestions on this front.

Just when it seemed life was inching ever so slowly back to normal, our country was again rocked by turmoil as a result of the tragic murder of George Floyd. This horrific incident and the public outcry that followed has forced all of us to think deeply about the role of race in our society and culture. We have always known that sports was an important part of this fabric, but the events of the past few weeks have really driven that notion home. I hope that all of us will emerge from this determined to bring more empathy and wisdom to our work. The scores, standings and stats are important, but we are uniquely positioned to advance the cause of justice through our storytelling. I encourage you to think about how we can do this better.

All of us have been wondering how we can bring about positive change – as citizens and parents, first, but also as members of the fourth estate. From our own small corner of the universe, I am hopeful that the USBWA can help find ways to make our profession more diverse. By any reasonable measure, we have not measured up. I do not doubt that genuine efforts are being made to diversify the editorial staffs at newspapers, magazines and digital companies across the country, but this industry needs to do a much better job identifying emerging talent and growing the pool of qualified candidates. The need for increasing diversity isn't just related to gender and race, by the way, but also age. A central challenge for the USBWA has always been to replenish our ranks. This was the intent behind our Rising Star award, but we can do more. Staying young and fresh helps keep us strong as an organization while allowing us to impart the ethics and practices of good journalism to the next generation of writers.

I have a few ideas that I am looking forward to activating over the next 10 months that I hope will address this, and I encourage you to pass along suggestions. Things might look difficult now, but I have faith that we will come out of this period with renewed purpose and appreciation for how lucky we are to do what we do. One thing we've learned for certain is just how much America loves and needs sports, especially the NCAA tournament. Here's hoping that we see it all play out again in 2021. Please be safe, everyone.