By J. K. Schmid, Special to the AFRO
A former AFRO reporter was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Hall of Fame May 25.
William “Bill” Rhoden, journalist, columnist and author, is a Morgan State alumnus, whose career spans publications from the AFRO to the Baltimore Sun to Ebony Magazine to the New York Times.
William C. Rhoden, who covered Baltimore and sports at the AFRO in the 1970s, is one of five journalists inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame. There will be a ceremony in August. (Twitter)
Rhoden joins four additional names to the 2018 class: Albert J. Dunmore (posthumous), a former managing editor and executive editor of the Michigan Chronicle; Victoria “Vicki” Jones (posthumous), a TV news program producer with Boston’s WGBH and WBZ, Harvard Graduate and former president of the Boston Association of Black Journalists; Louis Martin (posthumous), the commonly known “Godfather of Black Politics,” Martin was a Black rhetorical advisor to Democratic presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson and Carter, and a reporter, editor and publisher with institutions such as the Chicago Defender and also the Michigan Chronicle.
The only other living inductee is Bob Ray Sanders, a journalist whose career crossed radio, TV and written media. Sanders, reporting from Texas, was an early critic of South African Apartheid and covered Texas’ process of divestment from the regime.
“When I look at the list of previous inductees, this honor becomes even more humbling. Many of those men and women are people I have looked up to and admired for decades and who were beacon lights for my own career,” Rhoden told the NABJ. “The sole focus of my life and career at this point is mentoring and sponsoring a new generation of talented African Americans, not only in sports journalism but throughout a sports industry that tends to exclude and ignore Black talent that does not run and jump. I appreciate what this honor says about my past and am even more excited about the momentum it provides for an exciting future.”
One such mentor was AFRO sports editor Sam Lacy, of the eponymous NABJ Sam Lacy Pioneer Award. Lacy was 1991’s NABJ Lifetime Achievement Awardee.
“Sam was a crusader, I became a crusader,” Rhoden wrote of Lacy in “Overcoming Barriers With His Sports Pen” a May 2003 article for the New York Times. “In the rough-and-tumble 1940s and 1950s, he fought so many battles in a sports industry coming to terms with the emergence of African-American athletes. Lacy, Wendell Smith and Joe Bostic played a major role in integrating major league baseball. Sam and Wendell shepherded Jackie Robinson into White baseball and chronicled his first seasons for a Black audience that couldn’t get enough. Sam was an advocate for Black rights, a watchdog, a voice of reason.”
Since that 2003 article, Rhoden went on to publish 40 Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete in 2006. A deeply conflicted work; Rhoden’s literally-on-the-field account of 1968’s Whitney Young Classic, wherein he and the Morgan State Bears played the Grambling Tigers in Yankee Stadium, describes thrilling instances of courage, daring, foolhardiness, desperation and resolve. He and his Bears won, but in the echoes of the twin hammer-blow assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, questions what the ecstasy that comes with Black excellence ultimately delivers without Black advancement.
“This was a snapshot of out past, our present, and–I hoped–our future,” Rhoden wrote. “I walked off the Yankee Stadium turf bursting with pride, thankful to be part of something this big, this Black, this beautiful. We had the athletes, we had the fans, we had the money. This day, I thought, was the beginning of something. After all that happened in 1968–the assassinations, the riots, the protests–things would never be the same again; there was no going back. I felt that something new had awakened in us. Decades later, I would still be waiting. The dream was a mirage.”
The reality of Black sport, Rhoden’s research uncovers, is explained by his term “Jockey Syndrome.” Named so for the first instances of Black domination in American sport: horse racing. 18th and 19th century slaves, who tended, trained and finally rode their masters’ horses were nigh-unbeatable on the track. But White ownership coupled with White popular resentment, changed the rules to marginalize and all but eliminate Blacks from competition. Rhoden works reveals a similar pattern in the back-and-forth integration of baseball, the rise of and fall of Negro leagues, and Robinson’s 1947 break of the color line coming to overshadow Moses Fleetwood Walker’s debut in the major leagues in 1884.
While working for the AFRO in the 1970s Rhoden covered sports and Baltimore City among other things. One memorable article about various scams from 1974 carried the headline, “Summertime is ‘sting season’ for city’s flim-flammers.”
Rhoden now writes for The Undefeated. While chronicling the ever-rising LeBron James on the court, or profiling UMBC’s own Freeman Hrabowski’s leadership; one critical eye remains on how the NCAA compensates players.
“What happens if the players don’t show up?” Rhoden wrote in “The NCAA Tournament and the Billions of Dollars That Need to be Shared” for The Undefeated. “What happens if they stage a protest and demand a promise for greater distribution of the wealth? This year’s tournament is expected to take in more than $800 million. Are players willing to fight for greater compensation? Will March Madness ever take a knee? Perhaps sooner than you imagine.”
Rhoden and his peers will be inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame August 5 during the organization’s convention in Detroit.