Rollins: Never ‘stick to sports’

Khadrice Rollins, Reporter

I hate the phrase “stick to sports.”

It’s a way for people to project their own limitations on others because they either hate the idea of someone involved in sports also having valid opinions on larger societal issues, or because they disagree with the person’s views.

Basically, it’s nothing more than a way for someone to admit they are a hater. That’s why I love when people don’t stick to sports.

Actually, let me rephrase that. That’s why I love when people in sports show they are more than just sports, and like most people, they have the ability to either comment on topics outside of their job, or have been able to use experiences from their work in sports to apply to the rest of the world around them.

What might be even worse than the many outsiders who insist those in sports silence themselves on other topics is the multitudes of those involved in sports who decide on their own accord that they want to be seen as nothing more than sports.

This harsh reality, however, makes it even more special and significant when people don’t stick to sports. So when Wisconsin basketball players Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig decide to speak up on issues of racism on the Wisconsin campus or the Dakota Access Pipeline, I get excited.

It’s easy to “stick to sports.” It takes confidence, courage and in the cases of most in the sports industry who speak up on non-sports issues, a strong understanding of the subject matter they are discussing.

The only thing better in my opinion than the athlete who speaks up on social issues, is the athlete who addresses social issues within sports. Hayes speaking up on the financial struggles of college athletes or former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter attempting to unionize the football team are both great examples of athletes showing that even if they do stick to sports, there are more complex and pressing issues to discuss other than who won or lost a game.

Sure, not everybody in sports needs to be talking about everything going on in the world (I’m looking at you, Charles Barkley), but there are plenty of regular people who fall into the same boat of speaking on things they are not that knowledgeable about, and they are rarely chastised for it.

Nobody tells you to “stick to your job” when you insist on sharing your crappy opinions about James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook for NBA MVP. If I have to listen to your drastically flawed basketball analysis, you shouldn’t be telling Hayes to “stick to sports” when he wants to speak up about not having enough money because of the trash system the NCAA created.

And this brings me to my experience with The Daily.

I started writing for the sports desk my sophomore year, and like many of my colleagues at the sports desk, I was really prepared to stick to sports.

The Daily, like every news organization ever that is run by predominantly white people, doesn’t have the greatest reputation when it comes to reporting on marginalized communities. And because of that, I was even more comfortable sticking to sports.

I didn’t need to explain to my friends or others why some reporter was racially insensitive in an interview or why some column was just way too offensive and misguided — I just wrote about women’s basketball. Come talk to me about Nia Coffey and Ashley Deary.

But then one day, I couldn’t stick to sports.

When we were figuring out how we were going to cover the groundbreaking protest last November, I was asked to help with the editing process. Not because they needed the sports editor to make sure we used the right terminology when discussing the new practice facility, but because we needed a black person in the room.

And from that point forward, my time at The Daily became more than sports. Trust me, there was still a lot of sports, but I couldn’t stick to sports. I needed to use my knowledge and abilities as a journalist to bring more to the table than a vast understanding of all 19 NU varsity athletic teams.

And I made sure that I brought more than just being the black guy in the room who made sure things didn’t get too racist — although, in this field, and in all the newsrooms I have been in, that alone can go a long way.

So in addition to my racial background, I brought one of the strongest understandings of Daily and AP Style on the staff to the table. I brought an ability to work with younger writers so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes over again. I brought a cool head and level approach for when it was time to make decisions more important and complex than what stories go on the front page.

But I was so ready to limit myself to just sports until I was needed to be more.

When we go outside of our comfort zone, we get an actual chance to mature and see who we really are as people. Sometimes, you might look stupid in the process, and you’ll have to learn more about what it is you’re commenting on or the new job you’re trying to do. But if you insist on staying inside your bubble, there’s a limited amount of room for you to grow.

I love sports. The Monday after I graduate, somebody is going to pay me enough money so I won’t have to live with my mom as long as I write about sports.

But you’ll never catch me sticking to sports again.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @khadricerollins