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Freeman's accounts of the travails of black sportswriters come from first-hand experience. As he explains to the Voice, "I've been told by officials on teams that I've covered that other writers have used race as a way to belittle the scoops that I've gotten." The Washington Post's Wilbon backs him up, suggesting that white writers complain that they're excluded from the good scoops. "I've had people say that to my face: 'You can get those stories because you're black.' I say, 'That's interesting, because last I checked the coach and all his assistants are white. What are you talking about? Why can't you get that? What, are you excluded from that, too?' "
When he was just starting at The Dallas Morning News, Freeman, who has also worked at The Boston Globeand The Washington Post, says a veteran reporter there made reference to him while on the phone. "He said, 'Hey, we got our new affirmative action nigger today.' That was my third day on the job. I went around the partition and said, 'Hi, I just want to introduce myself, I'm the new affirmative action nigger.' "
The difference in New York, says Freeman, is that the resentment and prejudice are more insidious hererumormongering and efforts to discredit replace in-your-face bigotry. And, he tells the Voice, the situation for women reporters is "10 times worse."
In Sportspages.com, he wrote: "In New York, if a female writer is having a conversation with a player in the locker room, the two must be making dinner plans, or so go the rumors." It's an allegation that several sources have backed up for the Voice. In one example of press-box sexism, Freeman described an instance of baseball-beat writers watching pornography on their computers during a game. When a woman writer objected, according to Freeman, one of the male writers loudly rebuked her. The Record's Sullivan confirms having witnessed this scene.
Several female sportswriters also echoed other Freeman contentions. They described an environment in which their ability to do their job is sometimes questioned, in which smear campaigns about their personal relationships with players and professional tactics have been conducted, and in which they're at times expected to sit back and enjoy sexist or off-color jokes.
"I sympathize with what he's saying," Newsdaycolumnist Johnette Howard tells the Voice. "It's not that different in some regards from what women go through. I think some black guys are thought to have an advantage with black athletes because they're black. It's the same with women. Again and again you hear, 'Oh, he's just talking to you because you're a girl.' "
Sports Illustrated's Jeff Pearlman adds: "There are definitely writers out there who, when they see a minority or woman writer, jump to the conclusion that they aren't as good or as qualified or both. You hear rumors about some woman writer or radio personality who slept with so-and-so or did something to get where she is."
Of course, no matter how many sources confirm Freeman's general concerns, the fact remains that he took an unpopular step by going public. One that even some of his supporters had concerns about. And one, some argue, that amounts to airing minor job complaints in an inappropriate manner.
Freeman's letter, says the News' Rich Cimini, one of the five accused writers, only reveals "petty stuff that really has no news value for anyone else to read." Baltimore Sun columnist Don Markuswho responded to Freeman on Sportspages.com's message board, advising him to quit the New York scenetold the Voice, "Whenever sportswriters complain about their working conditions, the reader doesn't care."
But some journalism veterans welcomed Freeman's action. "These things very seldom get aired," says Sandy Padwe, an associate professor at Columbia University's graduate school of journalism. "Well, I'm glad that he aired them. There's no reason why the press box should be insulated. Why is the press box any less open for discussion?"
As for what the Web posting means for Freeman, some of his colleagues worry about his job and reputation. "I don't know if it'll change a lot of people's opinions of him," says Sullivan. "People who want to think poorly of him probably feel now like they have a lot more ammunition. People who already have respect for him, like myself, now just feel like we have even more. The bottom line is, Mike is a fantastic reporter, and he's really, really good at his job. A lot of people feel threatened by that. If you're good at your job you become a target."
Especially, according to many, if you are black or female in an overwhelmingly white male industry. "And I know Mike's felt that way for a long time," concludes Sullivan. "And I think he just felt like it was enough. And I don't blame him. I don't blame him at all."