Claire Smith: First-person account of ‘pioneer’ reporter who made a difference

Claire Smith says she doesn’t like to be regarded as a pioneer. Yet how can she be regarded in any other way?

When Smith was a baseball writer in the 80s, she often was the lone African-American and the lone woman in the press box.

I knew Smith back then when she covered the Yankees for the Hartford Courant. I recall her being a real pro, and I know others would agree.

Of course, I was a young, rather naive sportswriter trying to survive on the White Sox beat for the Chicago Tribune. I wasn’t completely aware of the obstacles Smith experienced on the beat.

I know quite a bit more now, and so will you after you read Smith’s excellent first-person story in the latest edition of Still No Cheering in the Press Box. This installment for the Povich Center for Sports Journalism at Maryland is a must-read if you want a history lesson in sports journalism and want to learn about somebody who truly made a difference in the profession.

A few things that stood out. As I mentioned, Smith on being different in the press box:

I was a Yankee writer; we opened on the road that year in Kansas City. I was walking onto the field, and Dave Winfield was out there stretching, and he said, ‘Claire, Claire, come here.’ Dave is a riot, a real great guy. So he says, ‘Some of the brothers were talking, and we starting talking about you and we noticed not only are you a woman, but you’re BLACK! So, we decided, whatever you need, you just come to us.’ I said that I would. He unintentionally makes me laugh all the time.

People ask me all the time, ‘What was the hardest thing to overcome, being a woman, being black,’ and I said it’s no contest because it’s unacceptable to be a racist, but it’s still very acceptable to be an idiot when it comes to gender. And that’s been proven over and over and over again. I could never imagine someone dropping the n-word in a clubhouse then. There would have been hell to pay. But, some of the stuff that comes out of player’s mouths that are aimed at women, it’s just juvenile. And it still happens today.

Smith details in a long passage how she wasn’t allowed in the San Diego Padres locker room during the 1984 NLCS. She concludes by writing about the players who came to her aid.

Those are the folks that I want to remember the most: Goose, Garvey, the Cubs, the Yankees, who filed an amazing protest against what the Padres did. When I asked the Yankees’ media director why they were doing it, he said, ‘Because no one treats Yankees beat writers like that.’ I remember going, ‘That is so cool!’ Everyone was coming to the defense of the female reporter, and the Yankees were coming to the defense of one of their people. I’ll never forget that.

The whole thing was very difficult. Ask anyone who goes through something like that, it just traumatizes you. But, what happened to me was mild compared to some of the stuff that other women have had to deal with.

Advice for covering the beat:

Don’t cut corners, and don’t give in to conformity. Be different. If you are on a beat, and there are ten reporters on the beat, and nine of them follow each other around, don’t be the tenth.

Blaze your own trail. If someone starts following you, don’t let him or her gain insight into what you are doing. If you’re talking to Alex Rodriguez, and I come up, stop asking questions. Demand that I ask a question, and if I don’t have one, tell me that it’s your interview. This goes for pregame though. After the game, it’s everyone for themselves. Protect your sources, but demand that your sources protect you by having as much integrity as you do.

And there’s much more. Definitely worth your time.

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