Second Sports Media Identity Network event brings academics and professionals together to examine lack of representation and opportunities; The Ability Group in Sport (TAGS), whose founder Nate Williams was among speakers, is providing those in power with ways to meaningfully engage…
The sports media industry could and should be much more proactive in reducing the barriers that inhibit the careers of disabled people.
Journalists and editors joined with academics to discuss these ongoing challenges at a Sports Media Identity Network (SMIN) event at Loughborough University’s London campus on January 20.
It was the second conference convened by SMIN, formed in 2022 to encourage dialogue and research in the industry and produce recommendations for senior leaders, with Northumbria University’s Roger Domeneghetti serving as project lead.
Domeneghetti said: “It’s vital that the research conducted by academics is not only informed by, but is also relevant to, the work of sports journalists.
“The fundamental aim of the network is to bring those two groups together on a regular basis.”
Among the speakers on the closing panel on dis/ability representation titled ‘Bridging the Gap’ was Nate Williams, who formally launched The Ability Group in Sport (TAGS) last August. TAGS’ membership has already grown to over 50 people and the group is amplifying calls for action.
In a recent open letter to the industry, Williams requested more funding and resources “in exchange for our knowledge and ability to solve industry issues through our valuable lived experience”.
Reflecting on the SMIN event, he said: “It was a great starting point in understanding why our industry has issues with recruiting, supporting and representing disabled people.
“Since setting up TAGS, the industry has asked us as a group, ‘what are we not doing?’ That’s the wrong question. It should be ‘how can we use our resources and platform to give you a voice?’
“The reality is disabled people need to see others like them succeeding while knowing that their needs will be fully supported. Hopefully, the outcomes of this study will be a wake-up call and positive change starts to materialise.”
Alongside Williams on the panel was Channel 4 News reporter and talkSPORT presenter Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, who had earlier delivered the opening keynote talk.
Jarrett-Bryan spoke about playing wheelchair basketball at a professional level, his move into sports broadcasting ahead of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and his previous discomfort at using the word ‘disabled’ to refer to himself.
“The reality is that I am disabled and I shouldn’t diminish that fact – but how do I use my invisible privilege?” he asked delegates.
“I want to use my big mouth to speak to decision-makers about giving more opportunities to people with disabilities.”
“As I see it there are 3 options
We either wait for organic growth, apply pressure to the leaders of the industry or we build our own spaces within the space (my preferred option)
Where are the podcasts on parasports? Where are the documentaries on disabled athletes?” pic.twitter.com/0PXuqhWLXd
— Sports Media Identity Network (@SM_Identity) January 20, 2023
Following Jordan-Jarrett Bryan’s address, four research presentations tackled topics of neurodiversity; ‘gender parity’ at the Paralympics; perspectives of female para-athletes on stereotypes, ableism and disability ‘top trumps’; and contrasting portrayals of dis/ability sport between the BBC and Channel 4.
The respective speakers were Nick Ransom (journalist and producer), Dr Andrea Bundon (academic and Paralympic guide skier), Gemma Stevenson (wheelchair tennis journalist and athlete) and Harriet Little (Oxford Brookes University masters student).
Professor Michael Silk (Bournemouth University) and Nikki Akinola (the NCTJ’s senior diversity and inclusion co-ordinator) later joined Williams and Jarrett-Bryan for the closing panel discussion.
Williams explained how TAGS is approaching major sports media organisations with an invitation to partner up and explore ways to move forwards.
“Collaboration is key. When you critique disability representation directly to those in power in the media industry, it can often be a spiky and difficult conversation, but it’s through this engagement that we can invoke change,” said Silk.
For more takeaways from the event, see the hashtag #SMINConf2 on Twitter
TAGS is also part of an alliance of diversity groups in sports media that is being supported by the SJA. A preliminary meeting was convened in December, with BCOMS, Women in Football and Sports Media LGBT+ also contributing.
The groups have vowed to lean on each other’s expertise where possible, allowing for a more intersectional strategy to tackling issues related to diversity and inclusion in sports media.
BCOMS has produced the free-to-download D Word 4 Guide containing new research, summaries of discussions at the D Word 4 Conference held at News UK in London in July 2022 and practical advice. Access it here.