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Rutgers panel discusses media's portrayal of Black activism

 Colin Kaepernick, a professional football player, began kneeling during the national anthem to protest against police brutality. – Photo by Photo by Twitter | The Daily Targum

A panel of speakers, comprised of distinguished members, most of whom are affiliated with Rutgers University, discussed the media’s portrayal of Black activism in an event held yesterday on Douglass Campus.

Christoph Mergerson, a doctoral candidate in the School of Arts and Sciences and panelist, had drawn on his background in media studies to analyze the portrayal of Black activism. He said he thinks many journalists fail to comply with the ideal role of the press, which involves covering events objectively. 

He talked about the example of the coverage on the NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, when he kneeled during the national anthem. Mergerson said the reporting on this event was biased and subjective.

“Kaepernick kneeled on the sidelines prior to the NFL games as a quiet protest against the unfair police tactics against Black Americans, and in doing so, he tapped into a tradition of Black athletes who used their media platform to grow social awareness,” Mergerson said. “Instead, media outlets seemed to report the news that positioned Kaepernick as a provocateur who himself caused injury to those whose sensibilities were offended by a Black male athlete who just wouldn't entertain them.”

Mergerson said that public service journalism would provide Americans with accuracy and clarity about what those activists are doing, instead of the journalism today that renders them as provocateurs. 

Brittany Wallace, a Rutgers alumna and former basketball player at the University, was another panelist at the event. She discussed the activism that had arisen after a particular occurrence involved her and the Rutgers basketball team. She spoke about the time in which the Rutgers basketball team was subjected to racism, sexism and chauvinism on national radio. 

Don Imus, an American radio personality, characterized the Rutgers women’s basketball team on the basis of its appearance, rather than on its playing against another college basketball team. He made derogatory comments and racial epithets toward them on his radio show and called them “nappy-headed hos.”

Wallace said the situation had a silver lining because she was able to see how strongly her coach supported her and her team, since her coach immediately rebuked Imus for his statements regarding the women’s basketball team. Due to the national uproar and protests that followed, CBS fired Imus.

Robert W. Turner, a panelist and assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Research and Leadership at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, discussed athletes in the context of activism. Turner is interested in athletes and their mental health and raised the question of whether athletes should be thrusted into the position of being a role model for the public.

Turner was featured in a LeBron-produced HBO film and referred to his interaction with former Rutgers football player, Shamar Graves. 

Turner said the life of an athlete can be incredibly difficult. Graves and his family were suffering from homelessness and poverty. Graves would take food from the training room and take it back so his family could eat, but the University would chastise him for taking it home because it is a violation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, he said.

“When we ask athletes to step out or when we do have athletes step out, think about their mental health, think about the stress that they go through sometimes, think about what it would mean for them,” Turner said. “Think about the sound mind that LeBron has to have and the strength LeBron has to have in terms of his response when Laura Ingraham says to shut up and dribble. He, classically, instead of chastising her and putting her back into her place, he pulls a page from Michelle Obama and says ‘when they go low, we go high.’ And he says, ‘I’m going to keep dribbling, but I’m also going to keep speaking my mind.’”

Turner spoke on the contrast between the varying experiences of LeBron and Graves and how that might contribute to their ability to serve as a role model and their agency to be one as well. 

Bryan Matthew, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and panelist, shared similar sentiments as to that of everyone else on the panel regarding the portrayal of black activism in the media. Matthew is a member of the Rutgers NAACP, a member of the Rutgers Black Student Lives Matter Chapter and Black Student Union.

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