Montclair State University rolled out its new Center for Sports Communication and Media in style on Wednesday, Nov. 29, as eight-time Emmy Award winner Jeremy Schaap joined its inaugural event.
It was almost too good to be true, that in a time when politics and sports have become an old married couple, that the journalist at the forefront of this matrimony would share his experiences with the students of Montclair State. Schaap has discussed social and political issues on ESPN programs such as E:60 and Outside The Lines for over 20 years.
Tensions surrounding social and political issues are as apparent as ever.
“We’re in a very polarized, politicized environment to an extent that we haven’t seen, at least in my lifetime, since the Vietnam War,” Schaap said.
Schaap’s visit to Montclair State and its new School of Communication and Media gave student journalists a look into a quarter century of his experience dealing with controversial topics found at the intersection of sports and social issues.
Schaap joined Dr. Keith Strudler, the Director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State to answer questions about his experiences in the field of journalism. The entertaining discussion ranged from Schaap’s experience calling the only chess match to appear on ESPN to the corruption surrounding the Olympics and the World Cup.
Throughout the dialogue, the audience was rewarded with not only the insights into Schaap’s opinions on social issues, but his sheer commitment to finding powerful stories and enacting change. The drive to attain a career in the field of journalism was apparent when listening to Schaap address the audience.
Schaap spoke about his relationship with his father, Dick Schaap, a legendary figure in sports journalism, and how it gave him a sense of comfort reporting on professional athletes.
“The constant exposure desensitizes them as hero’s in general … compared to an average viewer or reader,” Schaap said.
This level of comfort interacting with these prominent figures gives Schaap the ability to gain stronger insights than other reporters in his position.
With the focus of the event being on sports and activism, the discussion turned toward the outrage surrounding the protests of the national anthem.
Schaap, who considers himself a “free speech absolutist,” stated that the protests are within the player’s freedom of speech rights.
The protests have sparked fierce debates on the method of voicing opinions in the public, but have also caused a huge political divide in the country.
“Its not that I disagree with you if you’re on the other side of the political divide, it’s that I don’t even acknowledge you as a human being and that’s what we’re seeing,” Schaap said.
This statement shows the state of the country when it comes to political issues. This is a huge problem for politics, but also for society in general. For a journalist whose stories demand discussion and change, the ignorance of contrasting opinions has become counterproductive.
“The politicized environment in which we live now is exasperating racial tension rather than healing them,” Schaap said.
This argument is made clear through Schaap’s work on the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. Many took his powerful story about the thousands of workers put through dangerous conditions in Qatar and came to the conclusion that the world should boycott the games.
Although this is a consideration, boycotting the games goes against everything Schaap is trying to accomplish.
“The point isn’t for the world not to go to Qatar, the point is for the world to go to Qatar,” Schaap said. “But demand change … by applying pressure consistently for the next four years … then you can actually affect change.”
By bringing attention to these controversial stories, Schaap wants to see change, rather than people turning their backs on those in need.
So much of his work with ESPN’s E:60 and Outside the Lines focuses on social issues and demanding change. These issues cause many to criticize ESPN, stating they have become a liberal organization.
But Schaap does not see ESPN in this way.
“I don’t find a bias,” Schaap said. “I find a persistent effort to be fair and to look at things from both sides of the issue.”
The consistent effort to give the public a fair representation of both sides of the story is a staple the audience has come to expect from the media. In recent times, he has seen a lot of outrage.
Schaap also spoke about the recent troubles that ESPN has faced and his reaction to layoffs in past years. Having been connected with ESPN for so many years, Schaap describes the recent layoffs as “heartbreaking.”
Changes to the media industry have raised concerns for individuals looking for work in the field.
The constant changes to the industry, such as the cord cutting Schaap referred to, are reasons for concern, but he states that he has not changed his process
“It’s about finding stories, doing them well, enlightening your audience, and hoping they find it,” said Schaap.
This method of thought can give hope to those striving for a career in the media. As long as a journalist can discover good stories and present them well, there will always be a demand for people to consume them.
“The way you see fans react in a stadium after a great win is unlike anything you experience in life,” Schaap said. “You don’t see that in the ballet, you don’t see that at the opera, you don’t even see that after Hamilton.”
With that being said, sports aren’t going anywhere and neither are politics, so the marriage between the two will be need prospective reporters for years to come.