Black and white ESPN hosts have compelling end to SportsCenter

By Bo Roberts

“There’s never a day off from being black.”

That was the essence of a riveting conversation recently on ESPN’s SportsCenter between two young, attractive anchors, who had a three-minute talk about race. It was the most compelling discussion I’ve heard in the hours and hours of remarks made by a variety of commentators and columnists following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

When I related this episode to two of my African-American friends, their reaction was the same: “Wow.”

The white male host, Matt Barrie, started the conversation by explaining that his father was a policeman and that he and his family lived in daily fear wondering if his dad would return home safely. His black female co-host, Elle Duncan, explained that they had a commonality of that same fear whenever their loved ones left home. The difference, Duncan pointed out, was that when other fathers had a day off, fear receded but that if one was black in America there was no respite from being black; no days off, no vacations.

During this friendly, very cordial conversation, Barrie said he always had pride in “not seeing color,” but realized now that was not enough. He needed to see color and to realize that when he walked home from a friend’s house, or entered a business, or got on an elevator, it was a different situation. He said he needed to be aware that his black friends were always cognizant of the racial differences, and that he was working harder “to see color.”

Elle agreed, saying she had many white friends call to talk about the current turmoil, saying they felt guilty about not having been more sensitive to her situation.  She said she wasn’t looking for guilt. “They can’t help that they are white anymore that I can help being black.  I am glad my friends don’t have to face the same prejudices that we do; just understand the differences and make positive changes whenever possible.”

Though they may look fresh-faced, Elle is actually a 17-year broadcast veteran. The Atlanta native joined  ESPN in 2016, pairing with Matt in the mid-day sports center role shortly thereafter.  Arizonan Barrie started his career in 2001 and joined ESPN in 2013.

I can’t tell you the deep impact those few minutes had on me. Home during the pandemic, I flipped to Sports Center mid-day while walking on my treadmill. I called my friends soon after to share the effect of that brief exchange.

In mentally reviewing the show again later, I realized I was doing precisely what Ms. Duncan had suggested as the segment was concluding: “That’s what it takes: discourse. Talk to each other.” In other words, take the time to get to know people—-white or black. Take time to develop a well-honed sense of empathy for whatever the situation of others might be. Take time to care. Take time to support a cultural change that would result in no one fearing to leave home. Yes, do unto others, my friends.