Minor League Broadcaster Creates $3,000 Grant For Black Broadcasters
Against the backdrop of a nation blanketed with protests demanding racial equality, as well as a pandemic that has rendered a minor league season extremely unlikely, one current MiLB broadcaster has decided now is the perfect time to help bring about change in his industry.
On Monday, Adam Giardino, who has been in the minor leagues since 2010, including stops with the Lakewood BlueClaws, Trenton Thunder and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, announced his plan—backed by roughly 40 of his colleagues around the sport—to fund a $3,000 grant that would help bring black voices to broadcasting jobs in the minors.
“I think that with everything that we’re seeing across the country, that a lot of things that maybe we’ve subconsciously recognized and known to be true, are starting to bubble to the surface,” Giardino said. “And so far myself and a lot of us broadcasters, we’ve always known that when we’ve gone from stadium to stadium and broadcast booth to broadcast booth, the people in the other booth are white males.
“We’ve seen a slow but needed influx of female voices into the broadcast ranks, the play-by-play broadcast ranks, and yet, for some reason, we still aren’t seeing minorities, and specifically black voices, in broadcast booths across minor league baseball. Again, what I think we’re seeing now is that change doesn’t just happen if you will it into existence—you need to actually do something tangible.”
Broadcasters, like most minor league jobs, are not paid well. The website announcing the grant program says they are “regularly offered work for $1,000/month and no benefits or housing for the seasonal six-month period they are with the team.”
Compensation that low has resulted in an industry that is thoroughly dominated by white males.
Notable exceptions are women like Jill Gearin (Visalia), Emma Tiedemann (Portland), Emily Messina (Reading) and Maura Sheridan (Lynchburg).
That list also includes Melanie Newman, who recently landed a job as part of the Orioles’ broadcast team, Kirsten Karbach, who spent last season with Reading before leaving the industry prior to what had been the expected start of the 2020 season, and former Salem broadcaster Suzie Cool.
But the list of black broadcasters is even smaller. Current Astros broadcaster Robert Ford worked in the Eastern, Northwest and Frontier Leagues before getting hired by Houston. Chris Lewis, who currently is the voice of Boise State athletics, worked for the Pioneer League’s Idaho Falls Chukars before landing with the university.
“This grant is not exclusively intended for a black broadcaster in dire need of money. As much as a lack of pay can be prohibitive for many people of a certain background to enter the field, this grant is also a gesture from the industry saying it wants to welcome more diversity with open arms and wants to help lift up an underrepresented group,” Giardino wrote on the site announcing the grant.
“There are already countless barriers-to-entry when looking to land a job in play-by-play right out of college—feeling like you're not a welcome part of the majority-white broadcast community should not be on that list.”
After setting an initial goal of $3,000—which would provide a stipend of $500 a month for any black broadcaster hired for the 2021 season (a 2020 season is highly unlikely at this point)—Giardino nearly doubled that mark within hours of announcing the program.
And that doesn’t take into account the money he expects to receive from fellow broadcasters who are currently furloughed.
But landing the money is only part of the goal. The next step is getting a team to actually make a hire. With no games right now, the next chance to hire broadcasters won’t likely come until the Winter Meetings in December.
“That is going to be the challenge. The money is going to be available. The response has been overwhelming in the last week of what we’ve done behind the scenes with the 40 broadcasters who I was already able to recruit and get on board with this project ,” Giardino said. “The money is going to be there for much more than what we could have hoped, and so I think the next step is (the) creation of scholarship programs for black students who are looking to pursue a career in play-by-play.”
Giardino spoke with Jon Chelesnik of the Sportscasters Talent Agency of America about the organization’s annual Jim Nantz Award, which is given each year to the nation’s most outstanding collegiate sportscaster.
To win the award, a broadcaster must complete an application that shows his or her skills. Much like the minor leagues, the pool of applicants for the award is predominantly white and male. Of nearly 250 applicants, just three are black.
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“When I heard that from Jon—(STAA) is the premier resource for college students and up-and-coming broadcasters—that three out of 250 are black,” Giardino said, “that really solidified it for me and for us.”
Giardino has also spoken to Ford about the project, as well as Mariners play-by-play broadcaster Dave Sims, in order to get a better understanding of how they made it as far as they have in an industry dominated by white men and to hear what they’d like to see for the future.
“That is sort of the last hurdle, in my mind,” Giardino said. “We’re moving forward with this project, but at the end of the day the money can be there and yet, teams still need to take it upon themselves to answer that question as well of why aren’t we hiring (black) broadcasters.”
The grant money collected by Giardino and his colleagues will not replace a salary. Rather, it will supplement whatever a team pays its broadcasters. Put another way: If a team hires a black broadcaster, the money will be there to make sure he or she can make the most of the opportunity.