Journalist Jim Trotter asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell tough questions on diversity. Now he’s out of a job.
OPINION: The veteran journalist, whose contract with the league wasn't renewed, wasn't afraid to challenge the league for its poor record on diversity even as the league claimed diversity was a top priority.
Speaking truth to power isn’t for the faint of heart, especially when it can impact your livelihood. Blowing the whistle requires courage and resolve because it can lead to unemployment. Griping among friends and colleagues is far easier than complaining to the boss who approves your direct deposit.
Hired by the NFL to cover the NFL, veteran journalist Jim Trotter was unafraid, handing the league a mirror and braving the blowback.
He pointed out obvious disparities and asked pointed questions. He wondered aloud about Commissioner Roger Goodell’s thoughts on Black journalists in the newsroom and Black coaches on the sidelines. Trotter wasn’t satisfied to simply swallow the company line on diversity, how much the league desires equity and values inclusion.
Instead, he pressed the issue and referenced a James Baldwin quote in the process: “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”
Trotter uttered that line in February at Goodell’s annual Super Bowl news conference. He asked about hiring practices within the league’s media division, which includes NFL Network and the NFL.com website. That made two consecutive “State of the League” press events where Trotter presented a mirror on diversity, having inquired about coaching hires in 2022.
The league has offered plenty of words, but actions keep speaking louder. Trotter is gone.
“I thank NFL Network and NFL.com for the lessons learned and affirmed over the last five years,” he tweeted Monday, revealing that his contract wasn’t renewed.
I’m biased because he’s a friend and a fellow Howard alum (we know). He’s another brother who’s spent the bulk of his career covering mostly Black athletes in mostly white press boxes. But virtually everyone testifies that he’s straight class, a consummate pro and a well-mannered gentleman with 30 years of stellar experience. Journalists and other humans don’t come much better than Jim Trotter.
Just before Pat Mahomes beat Jalen Hurts in the Double Soul Super Bowl, Trotter told Goodell that “we’ve never had a Black person in senior management in our newsroom. … More concerning is that for a year-plus now, we have never had a full-time Black employee on the news desk.”
The NFL can cut Trotter loose, but it can’t shut him up. He put the league on blast while cashing its checks and he’s even freer now. Miss him with the BS, like Monday’s leak after his news. “An NFL Media official told the (NY) Post that 58 percent of full-time employees hired in 2022 were people of color and that the three most recent NFL Media senior hires are people of color,” he tweeted.
Who they think they fooling? Not us. Such precise stats are meaningless when said employees still represent just a sliver of staff and management. Trotter tweeted his own Q&A to inform followers. “How many Black senior managers are in the NEWSROOM (0) & how many full-time Blacks are on the news desk (0)?” he tweeted.
“Please don’t fall for the banana in the tailpipe. In a league that says its player population is 60%-70% Black, these men deserve to have someone w/similar cultural and life experiences at the table when decisions are being made about how they will be covered. Seems appropriate.”
It’s also appropriate to discuss common knowledge, how coverage can lead to commingling between the media and the orgs being covered. Trotter knows how each side operates, sometimes working together with opposing motives.
The NFL Media official was unnamed but carried a vital counterweight to Trotter’s point. Here’s a pro tip for increased media literacy: Always note which words are used — and which words aren’t — when anonymous officials whisper to reporters.
“When someone says Person of Color, ask them for the specific data for BLACK people,” Trotter tweeted. “When someone says Media Group, ask them for specific data for the NEWSROOM. That’s on background, right @AlexRiethmiller?”
Alex Riethmiller is the spokesperson for NFL Media, which has declined comment on the record. But someone apparently provided information on background, which means “keep my name out of it.”
The league’s media operation has escaped real scrutiny with our attention on the piss-poor record of hiring Black coaches. That branch of racism is well documented, particularly in a class-action lawsuit headed to court. As such, we’ve been less focused on NFL Network and NFL.com resembling house organs.
They’re not totally independent outfits reeling off deep-dive exposés. The preference is trafficking in reactionary pieces, providing dutiful coverage whenever the league is exposed or settles out of court or seeks cover behind Jay-Z.
But Trotter wouldn’t lower the damn mirror.
“Journalism matters and holding people who are in power accountable matters,” he said Monday on Peacock’s “Brother From Another.” He said the NFL repeatedly instructed its media operation to “‘hold us accountable as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion.’ And for the last couple of years, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Several others might not return to NFL Media as the league slashes payroll. Twice putting Goodell on the spot during Super Bowl week didn’t help Trotter’s chances of sticking. “There are some who didn’t like it,” he said. “And I do believe it played a role in my contract not being renewed.”
Speaking truth to power comes with risk, and Trotter is cool with that. “So be it, you know?” he said. “I’m not going to change. And I’m always going to fight for representation and I’m always going to fight for the truth.”
Cue the Isley Brothers.
Fight the power.
Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.