Journalism Showcase

ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – October 14, 2016

I’m thrilled his story of being the only openly gay man who will take an NBA court this season resonated with readers, but there’s also a real satisfaction that those same readers learned just a little bit more about gay life than they had going in.
– Kevin Arnovitz on profiling NBA referee Bill Kennedy (pictured above)

ESPN NBA writer Kevin Arnovitz opened up to Front Row to share how his own personal experience helped him tell the story of Bill Kennedy, an NBA referee whose professional and personal life changed after an altercation on the court.

Being an openly gay journalist, Arnovitz was able to draw from his own experiences to better relate to Kennedy in the creation of “The Official Coming-Out Party.” The story, which is a collaboration with TrueHoop, appears in ESPN The Magazine’s “Great Debates” issue.

Given the sensitivity of the content, did you prepare any differently?
I didn’t generally depart from my usual process, but there were moments in the reporting when I drew on my personal experience as an openly gay journalist, which isn’t something I’ve done very often. Reporting on a subject is always about building trust, and the ability to understand his journey intimately probably allowed me to dig a little deeper. I knew the questions to ask, the nomenclature, and even some of the goofy conventions of gay life in America that can lighten up a conversation. In some respects, my preparation didn’t occur in the weeks prior to reporting — but in the 23 years since I came out.

What did you find most challenging about writing this story?
Though avid NBA fans know Kennedy by face, he didn’t live a public life and there was very little previously documented about his life. Like most of us, Kennedy didn’t have immediate recall of whether an event occurred in, say, 1989 or 1991. That can be tricky when assembling a story that needs to be precise. There was one particular episode in the story surrounding a charge a Detroit usher leveled against Kennedy, an incident that threatened his career. But Kennedy couldn’t remember which season, and those who adjudicated the matter in the NBA office couldn’t either, which meant I couldn’t get hold of the accuser. The NBA dug through old records, but nobody could find a thing. Here was this pivotal moment in his professional and personal biography, but it was nearly impossible to piece together. In the end, I had to distill it down to generalities.

Is there anything else you would like readers or fans to know?
One of the pleasures of telling Kennedy’s story was the opportunity to introduce readers to a character we don’t frequently see in stories — the professional, workaday 49-year-old gay man. We get plenty on the Neil Patrick Harrises of the world, or the Tim Cooks, or the victims of violence, all of which warrant attention. But in a real sense, Kennedy might represent a more everyday portrayal of gay life in America, which is something that’s still a relative unknown to most folks, even as the nation has become more collectively tolerant. He’s a company man who lives in a tract home in the Sun Belt, plays softball with the guys, takes his meals at upscale casual dining spots, loves popular country music and navigates the travails of dating in the modern world. I’m thrilled his story of being the only openly gay man who will take an NBA court this season resonated with readers, but there’s also a real satisfaction that those same readers learned just a little bit more about gay life than they had going in.

Outside The Lines discusses Texas’ law on weapons on campus

LB Malik Jefferson with Reporter Paula Lavigne. (Carolyn Hong/ESPN)
Paula Lavigne (R) interviews University of Texas LB Malik Jefferson. (Carolyn Hong/ESPN)

When Texas passed the concealed campus carry law this summer, Outside the Lines reporter Paula Lavigne became interested in how the new law would impact students.

“The concealed campus carry debate had been very prominent in Florida and in Texas over the last couple of years,” said Lavigne. “Coinciding with that, there’s often talk about athletes and guns, more often in the context of athletes getting in trouble with guns.”

One particular athlete, Malik Jefferson, expressed his stance on the law.

“We found through our reporting that one University of Texas football player was being very public about his opposition to campus carry,” Lavigne said of Jefferson. “That surprised me because I know a lot of athletes own guns, so it surprised me that the athlete voice we found on this issue was opposed to guns.”

To accurately report on this issue, Lavigne interviewed a variety of subjects to share their points of view.

“One of the most important things with this piece was to be absolutely sure that we had every side represented,” she said. “This (gun control) is such a contentious issue on campus, in our country and in the world; there is nowhere where gun control is not a highly contested issue.”

As a reporter, Lavigne wants to educate others about the law, despite their opinions. She believes educating oneself is what’s most important.

“It’s important to know the facts and to be educated,” Lavigne said. “And, when it comes to sports, to look at the movement of athletes who are opposed to guns. So often when we hear about athletes and guns, they are getting into trouble. But there are athletes – Malik is one of them – who are opposed to guns. They (athletes) are on a side of this issue that hasn’t been represented before.”

Outside the Lines “Campus Conceal Carry & Sports” debuts on Sunday, Oct. 16. at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

By Molly Mita

Journalism On Display

  • Sonny Liston died on Dec. 30, 1970, from what some believed was a heroin overdose. All the while, there has been an open question of whether he actually died at the hands of someone else. In this excerpt from his upcoming book, “The Murder of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin, and Heavyweights”, ESPN investigative writer Shaun Assael recounts the day in 1982 when a sergeant in the Las Vegas police force got a strange tip that set in motion a new round of questions.
  • Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett’s four seasons as a Buckeye have been framed by four crises, one more serious than the next. A couple of them played out in public, a couple didn’t. But all four, and how Barrett responded to them, transformed a quiet kid from Wichita Falls, Texas, into a forceful leader in Columbus, Ohio. Ivan Maisel writes the story of Barrett on ESPN.com. No. 2 Ohio State plays No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. College GameDay will be live from Madison, Wisc., on Saturday at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN.
  • Hurricane Matthew left Haiti in devastation with hundreds dead and more people homeless. Haitian athletes in the United States are coming together to use their finances and their platform to raise money and awareness for their beloved country. Sunni Khalid writes about the history of Haitian athletes in professional sports and how they’re helping out to their homeland on The Undefeated.com.
  • Andy Katz and ABC’s Rick Klein are joined by Duke Forward Amile Jefferson and ESPN’s Sarah Spain on ESPN Audio to discuss the changing standard of what defines “locker room talk” and why athletes are speaking out about it. Plus, senior writer Michael Fletcher covers The Undefeated Presents: A Conversation with the President and more.
  • Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (9:30 a.m., ESPN2; 10:30 a.m., ESPNEWS) will be Mike Lupica (host), Frank Isola, Bob Ryan and Tom Waddle.

By Molly Mita

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