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Reflections: 40 years of being a Black journalist in sports

Arnold Payne, a videojournalist for 40 years, reflects on what it means to be a Black journalist in the world of sports.
Credit: AP

I was recently asked about my relationships surrounding Black and white athletes, my personal interactions and what those relationships have meant to me throughout my past 40 years as a sports videographer.

My vision has always been to capture and breathe life into images to tell a story. Oh, and did I mention, enjoy the ride. And what a ride it continues to be!

I find myself reflecting on years and years of assignments and how each may have played a role in defining my understanding of sanity, in an often time, insane world.

In a world that we’re all trying to find our rightful place, the wide world of sports has always crisscrossed every race, color, ethnicity, gender and class under and including the rainbow. And might I add, managed to "thrive” and "survive.”

Throughout my years as a photojournalist, the stories that have given me reason to believe there really was a “divine purpose,” are the very stories that represented a “deeper purpose,” hidden behind its shadowed scenes.

Much like Tiger Woods arrival in Fort Worth to compete in the 1997 Colonial Golf Tournament. Was I excited? Yes! Did I find myself rooting for him? Yes!

Despite my enthusiasm, did I shoot his golf shots with more swagger than that of any other golfer? No!

Did I frame his interview with more precision than any other? No!

Credit: WFAA

But Tiger’s presence immediately took me back to a space, that most would like to erase. A time when “people of color” were only allowed at the elite country clubs as waiters, cooks, dishwashers and locker room attendants.

The only way that a black man could set foot on a golf course, was as a caddy.

Yes, I was selfishly rooting for Tiger.

When Ron Washington was named the first African-American team manager of the Texas Rangers and eventually took them to the franchise’s first-ever World Series, I would be less than honest, if I said it didn’t have a deeper meaning.

Just as his sudden resignation, following previously admitted drug use and an extramarital affair, bring me personal embarrassment and disappointment.

Credit: WFAA

Of course, some stories will always have a deeper meaning than others, but that in no diminishes every relationship. Former Cowboys Quarterback Troy Aikman, who I’ve known for 30-plus years, on occasion, still jokingly refers to me as “Window-Payne,” not out of disrespect but because of a horrible golf shot that shattered a mom’s window, on the 18th fairway. Did I mention, on Mother’s Day?

But my working relationship with Aikman is no different than that of Dirk Nowitzki, Muhammad Ali, Nancy Lieberman, Lee Trevino or Adrian Beltre. All are valued members of my extended sports family, “diversity” and “inclusion,” each unique, each a different voice.

Credit: WFAA

At the end of the day, does it really make a difference that this journalist is Black or that athlete is white? Or any other combination for that matter. As long as there is fair representation, responsible dialogue and unbiased reporting, does it really matter? Now that you’ve taken the time to read this story, can you ask yourself?

Which brings me back to where I began, "what has been my experience with Blacks, whites and other ethnicities? How do I view them, and in my opinion, how do they view me?"

Are there inherent bias’ controlling these discussions? Funny, now that I give it some thought, I now realize, I never gave it any thought.

Credit: WFAA