It was about 11 months ago today that the staff at Deadspin staged a revolt and became heroes in the world of journalism. When the writers and editors at the publication got the mandate from its new executives and private-equity owners to “stick to sports”—a directive that is, of course, couched firmly in white supremacist rhetoric—the staff led a mass exodus. This was unprecedented and brave. The Deadspin staff wanted to tackle the intersections of sports and social issues, and so wholly believed in their duty to do so that the staffers who hadn’t already been fired decided to quit. As someone who knows about the treacherous journalism landscape, I can tell you leaving a job in the industry is brave as hell.
The new Deadspin regrouped and hired an all-new staff over the summer. Much of that staff — high-level editors and writers—were Black. As soon as the hires were announced, I watched Deadspin’s diehard (and well-earned) fan base flood the writers’ mentions with the word “scab,” a reference to people who cross picket lines to join a company.
I held my tongue.
Because what those fans don’t realize or don’t care is that high-level writing and editing jobs are scarce for Black journalists even in the world of sports, where most of the athletes they write about are Black. Sports journalism is full of white guys writing about Black athletes and Black culture without having done any due diligence to even try to understand either of those things. Black journalists are often on the outside looking in. Especially young Black journalists. And while there may be a desire to see these journalists walk in solidarity with the previously-excommunicated Deadspin staff, the fact is those old Deadspin staffers have infinitely more access to jobs and security blankets that Black journalists (and Black people in general) simply won’t ever have.
For their part, the new Deadspin staffers are writing about race and doing everything but sticking to sports. I don’t know exactly why the new Deadspin ownership couldn’t have just let their old staff write about more than sports instead of going through all of this, but whatever the case, this is where we are.
With all that said, I was really excited when I saw that the old Deadspin staffers were going to form their own pub named Defector. I was a fan of the writers at Deadspin and couldn’t wait to see them untethered from big corporate concerns. I was anticipating what they would write that would show what they could do when not sticking to sports, especially during the Civil Rights fight of our lifetime.
So imagine my surprise when Defector launched with one Black person on their masthead—Billy Haisley, a senior editor. Imagine my frustration when, two weeks later, they don’t have any sports stories written by Black people other than two soccer stories by Haisley. They have no coverage of the NBA Bubble and the social justice efforts there, a topic widely covered by Black writers. They have three total WNBA stories, none by Black women, and none about the social justice movement the league has led. Nothing on Maya Moore. There’s a story about Naomi Osaka’s US Open win through the eyes of a white guy. The NBA coverage is, ironically, pretty much sticking to sports.
There aren’t articles about Breonna Taylor.
And here is the story as old as time. Defector, with the power to envision a journalism world of its own making, created one that is just as white and toothless as the rest of the industry. There’s no excuse. I know Defector is young and hopefully they bring in Black voices, but there’s no justification for anyone thinking it’s okay to launch a publication in this moment without Black people.
Defector is a white revolution, and the lesson is clear: it’s impossible to rage against a machine you’re part of.
Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Billy Haisley, who is Black, is a senior editor who has written two stories about soccer.