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Inside The Undefeated’s Reporting Regarding Blacks, American Health Care System

Senior writer Michael Fletcher on motivation for study, storytelling

It is no secret years of structural racism in health care delivery and outcomes has led to a troubling level of distrust of the system among Black Americans.

The depth of this skepticism was revealed in a new nationwide survey on “Race and Health Care” by The Undefeated and Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey of 1,769 U.S. adults, including 777 who identify as Black or African American, found that despite the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on Black communities, 49 percent of African Americans will not take a vaccine even if deemed safe.

The Undefeated/KFF survey is one of the most expansive studies in recent years on Black people’s attitudes and experiences with health care. It is exclusive to The Undefeated, and the ESPN sports, race and culture platform is publishing its results via a three-day (Tuesday-Thursday) series of interpretive reporting by a trio of senior writers Michael Fletcher, Lonnae O’Neal and Jesse Washington. The Undefeated deputy editor Steve Reiss leads the project. Fletcher discussed the project with Front Row.

Having studied The Undefeated/KFF poll results, what are the most important revelations about the research on the healthcare system and Black Americans?
Fletcher: It is striking that while many Americans have misgivings about the health care system, a majority of Black people not only distrust the health care system but also see that distrust as an extension of the discrimination they encounter in many walks of life.

Michael Fletcher (The Undefeated/ESPN)

Why is this study so important at this time in America?
Fletcher: The nation’s ongoing racial reckoning has prompted many well-meaning Americans to search for ways to bridge the nation’s gaping racial divide. That task is made more urgent by the disproportionate impact Black and other communities of color are experiencing from the coronavirus pandemic. Understanding how people see their place in society is a good place to start, and the survey helps us better understand that.

In addition to writing this KFF story, the ESPN television special “The Stop” is inspired by a project you reported for The Undefeated and National Geographic in 2018. What did you think of the special as an extension of your original reporting?

Fletcher: The special felt like a logical extension of the piece, which focused tightly on traffic stops, the most common interaction between police and citizens. Most are routine, of course, but for Black people there is always this added edge of wariness because of the violent encounters that too often arise. That wariness extends to all police encounters, something the special captured. The discouraging thing, though, is it feels like we’ve been having this discussion about racial profiling, police stops and police brutality for decades now, and the issue has not gone away.

In the four years since you joined ESPN, what are you most proud of as a founding writer for The Undefeated, in terms of the kind of work the platform is doing?
Fletcher: The range of work is impressive. It is an honor to be part of a platform with so many talented writers and other journalists who can not only provide insight on sports but also bring fresh perspectives on the broad spectrum of racial questions that confront the country.

EDITOR’S NOTE: After four years as one of the senior writers who launched The Undefeated, Michael Fletcher recently transitioned to ESPN’s investigative journalism unit, where Fletcher said he joined “some of the finest journalists anywhere to extend some of what we do at The Undefeated across ESPN and beyond.”

The Walt Disney Company owns ESPN, The Undefeated and National Geographic.

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