June 10, 2021
As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 39th in a series of blogs that will be a part of that effort. I hope you will benefit from the conversation.
I have utilized A Conversation on Race to engage with equity leaders — mentors, teammates and dear friends — from all over the country, and I’ve learned so much about them and me in the process.
As we pass the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder, it is my hope that the rallying cries for systemic change and our progress on social justice will only accelerate. We are sustaining our voice for change, but we must continue the work.
My 20th guest is Myron Medcalf, a supremely talented and versatile journalist. The Milwaukee native has a fascinating family history, which inspired his passion for storytelling. He earned a degree in Mass Communications at Minnesota State University in Mankato, where he also worked at the student newspaper, rising to become editor-in-chief.
Initially a news reporter with the Star Tribune, Myron transitioned to covering the University of Minnesota men's basketball team, as well as all of college basketball. In October 2011, Myron was hired to cover college basketball at ESPN, though he thankfully has returned to the Star Tribune as a columnist.
And he's tackling tough topics and challenging individuals, including myself. The title of that May column: "Will powerful white Minnesotans live up to promises made after George Floyd's murder?"
After our interview, I was impressed with his thoughtfulness, willingness to listen and, ultimately, the breadth of his column, which compelled me to invite him to join me.
Myron is currently a senior college basketball reporter and nationally syndicated radio host with ESPN. He's a former Star Tribune news and sports reporter.
I hope you'll enjoy Part 1 of my talk with Myron Medcalf.
Glen: First of all, there's something interesting that I'm watching with you, Myron. You're a renaissance man on the communications and journalism front, expanding outside of sports and doing some crossover work, like the article you did recently in the Star Tribune, challenging social impact kind of questions. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Myron: I appreciate that. I've always thought that as sportswriters, our advantage is, we get to talk about humanity in a visible way. Public theater, everyone understands competition, they understand winning and losing, they understand the emotions attached to that. They understand supporting a team, not supporting a team. They understand so many of those concepts that they probably wouldn't discuss or maybe feel as comfortable discussing in their regular lives. But once you put athletes out there, everyone feels that it's appropriate to say, 'Hey, this guy is good enough, or he's not good enough. Or trade this guy, do not trade this guy.' So I've always thought sportswriters had that advantage because that's really all we're writing about, in my opinion, when it comes to winning and losing I don't think that's any different than what people do every day. You're trying to win the day. You're trying to win at home. You're trying to win at work. Then, as a parent, as a friend. People care about winning when sports are involved. So I have always valued those concepts. I got into sports writing because I just wanted to write about these incredible figures, these interesting people.
I was in high school when I got a book as a gift, All Those Mornings, which featured columns by Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich. I expected to read all about all the great sporting events he had covered, and there was a lot in there. But there were also these columns that he'd written about World War II and all these things he'd done outside of sports. And there's actually a pretty strong history of some of the greatest sportswriters of all time being correspondents and writing about politics, writing about society. And so I've never really felt like I had to be in that box. Also, I started out covering news. So I was a news reporter before I ever jumped into sports.
But I do think the concepts are universal. It's winning and losing and everything attached to that. The good, the bad and the ugly. We're comfortable talking about that, but it's the Twins or the Vikings, less so when it's about our everyday lives.
Glen: That's a powerful notion, and I appreciate that background that you came out of news. As you're thinking about humanity, one of the things that I've wrestled with a lot is where we are, in our collective humanity right now. And at the Y, we've been spending a lot of time thinking about our obligation to serve all and that these race dynamics we are up against, to me, are issues of humanity and issues of human dignity. So it's been painful, to say the least, to watch the political dynamics of the last number of years. How do you describe where we are right now, with respect to our collective humanity?
Myron: I think people have been challenged, as to what that really is. More than anything, I think the video of George Floyd's murder showed this world the depths of humanity. Like how bad this can be, if you allow it to be, if you actually allow yourself to sink and to gravitate toward these toxic ideas about what another human being is. You can end up erasing that person, figuratively and literally. So I think it was a good reminder for people who perhaps thought that maybe this country, this world, had advanced to a certain degree, where that would never happen. I think that's why it's so important to talk about systemic racism, structural racism, institutional racism, because systemic and institutional racism is not something that people are necessarily conscious of all the time.
I think about it like the water in my home. I have no idea where exactly it comes from. I have no idea where the pipes are necessarily. I do know if there's a leak, and I do know if all of a sudden I'm not getting hot water, but I don't know how it works. And I think that is how systemic racism can happen, whether it's at a corporate level, whether it's at a government level. Anyone who doesn't understand, that to me is where you end up in a situation where so many people are saying, 'Wow, I never knew.' You never knew because you never had to, because it was stitched into the system of society and these things happen and the assumption might've been, 'This is happening because some people who aren't white just aren't as educated. They're not as smart. They don't work as hard.' All of these ideas that people have thought to themselves over the years, and then you look and you go, 'Wait a minute. Why is the wealth gap what it is between white Americans and Black Americans? Is that a work ethic thing? Why is the education gap between white people and Black people that wide, in a place like Minnesota that has really devoted itself to education?'
And I think if the idea is simply there's a group of people who just aren't putting their best foot forward, then that goes back to the water in your home. You assume everyone has hot water. You assume everyone has clean water to drink because you've never had to think about it any other way.
So I think our collective humanity is at a place now where it's being questioned, because I think people now realize that you can't make assumptions because that's how we ended up in that situation.
Glen: It feels like maybe this time is finally different. All of a sudden, corporate leaders are no longer backing off from activist positions or points of view, but some are crossing that line, and it may be in part because their team members are expecting nothing less. Ten years ago, you'd never have a Jamie Dimon (chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase) speak out about racism. So, to me, I'm finding some hope — where some of the real decisions get done, where the real influence is, where the real power is — that maybe there's a tipping point that we've arrived at. Do you see that? Or where do you sit?
Myron: I'm still waiting to have the ability to answer that question because I just don't know yet. It certainly feels different. The commitment certainly feels different. But I think we have to wait and see the results. These commitments to change are important, but I think the great challenge is, I don't ever want people to think you reach the finish line because I don't think that's possible actually. You can make significant changes, and there will still be challenges there to address. But I think there are some people who are waiting for this finish line because that's how we're wired. We all want the big celebration, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 'We did it!' And I don't think there is a, 'We did it' moment. And because you don't have a, 'We did it' moment, that's when you realize this isn't the a 100-meter dash but actually a marathon. And a bunch of people are going to drop out as we go along because they didn't plan for it to be a marathon. They were just going to run as fast as they could and hope that was sufficient. So I think there's still time before we can actually say this is different now.
I hope it's different. And it's really amazing to see the commitments and the efforts that are happening. I know there are a lot of people with great hearts and intentions, who really want to make sure that this isn't a place that's defined by what happened a year ago. But I also think there are a lot of people sprinting because it's easier to sprint. You don't really see anything when you're sprinting. You're just going a 100 miles an hour and it feels like you're achieving something. But that marathon is a different story, and I just wonder who's going to be there at the end.
Glen: You're helping me crystallize things with elegance and simplicity, like the difference between trying to get there fast versus to get there, over time, in a sustainable way. To your point, we are built around victories, around checking boxes. And yet in an environment like we're in, where you found a country with slavery at its core, and your laws have been so onerous to certain segments of your community. You're right. It's going to be a lifetime over a lifetime, generations yet to undo what has been going down for so long.
So, in that spirit, what brings you hope?
Myron: I think society will continue to be challenged to do that. My father grew up not that far from where Emmett Till was killed. He remembers white fountains, colored fountains. My grandfather was a sharecropper in Mississippi. If you know anything about sharecropping, that is hard work to get a fourth of what are owed. So I think — and I don't mean this in an arrogant way — I'm hope. I think my children are hope. I think that generations have moved forward.
We can ever get to a place where we don't believe in hope because then we might as well just unplug everything and quit. And we can't do that. We can't succumb to that. But that is the great temptation. If you don't see progress the way you want to see it, how quickly you want to see it, then what's the point? And I think individuals, human beings. hit the, What's the point?' moment, time and time again. Martin Luther King hit that point. If you watch Martin Luther King toward the end of his life, he was a man who was saying, 'Is all this worth it?' He was not a man who was saying, 'I have a dream, I achieved all these things.' He was saying, 'Is this worth it?' And I think we have to be able to give ourselves room to grow. To me, people are committing to ideas and projects and checklists, but I hope people, first and foremost, commit to growth because if you can't commit to growth, then when you hit those moments — to what seem like roadblocks — you'll quit.
But the generation before me didn't quit, and they put me in this position, where now I'm one of the first Black faces that anyone has ever seen in the biggest paper in the Upper Midwest, to have a voice. My grandfather helped do that. My great grandmother, who was a slave, she stood and fought. So I can't ever get to a point where I say it's all hopeless and there's no reason to think that tomorrow will be better. I'm always going to think tomorrow can be better. I don't know if it will be, but I'll always think that it can be better.
Learn more about Myron by clicking here. Look for Part 2 of our “A Conversation on Race” with Myron next week.