By Craig Brown
Sports editor Gregory Lee Jr. has an unsurpassed affinity for African-American journalism, as well as the students and professionals that comprise the field.
Lee, a graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans, has served in editorial leadership positions with media outlets such as The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and NBA.com. Currently, he is a senior managing editor at The Athletic, a subscription-based sports website that offers in-depth coverage via its over 40 locations throughout the United States and Canada.
Equally important to Lee’s career aspirations is his commitment to the growth and viability of African-American journalism. His foremost aid in this endeavor is the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), an organization committed to advocating for Black journalists all around the world. Lee has served in a variety of roles in support of NABJ, highlighted by his stint as president from 2011 to 2013.
After Lee completed high school, he chose to attend Xavier University, partly because the HBCU housed a fully-equipped television production studio. Lee had aspirations of becoming a sports broadcaster, so Xavier appeared to be a great fit.
How Lee navigated from broadcast sports to print journalism happened unintentionally. When he noticed mistakes in the school newspaper’s sports section, he brought them to the attention of his sports editor. To remedy the situation, she challenged him to join the newspaper’s sport section. The seeds of a long and tremendously impactful editorial career were planted.
Always remaining ready is a concept that has certainly benefitted Lee in his over 25 years as a sports reporter and editor. When a friend of Lee’s announced that he was leaving the Times-Picayune newspaper, he suggested that the then 19-year-old Lee apply for the position. He did, and was hired by his local newspaper during his sophomore year in college.
Lee followed that career move by attending the Sport Journalism Institute (SJI), an organization designed to increase diversity in regard to sports journalism. Graduates of SJI have served as content creators at revered media outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the Wall Street Journal.
It wasn’t long before Lee found himself working at preeminent news organizations such as The Washington Post. There, he cut his teeth under legendary sports editor George Solomon. “I felt honored to be tapped by Solomon to come and work in his section,” Lee said. Under Solomon’s tutelage, Lee was allowed to learn and grow in an environment that only asked that he remain true to his authentic self. Lee believes that this unrestrictive environment was essential towards his professional development.
During Lee’s career progression, however, he started to notice that there was something missing: a significant African-American presence. “I didn’t see anyone like me doing what I wanted to do,” Lee said. “So, I’ve always strove [to ensure] if my kids want to be sports journalists, they have people they can look up to. They can say, ‘I can be a sports editor, sports columnist or the president of ESPN.’”
The Athletic has made considerable growth since its initial launch in January 2016. But as the website prospered, Lee and other nonwhite journalists recognized the all-too-familiar plight of little to no representation by journalists of color. Lee decided that The Athletic must be held accountable. On March 5, 2018, Lee tweeted that the sports website only employed a total of one African-American male in three of its larger divisions. He followed that tweet with another that displayed the demographic make-up of the site’s entire workforce. Lee’s research indicated that 87.3 percent of The Athletic’s staff was white, while only 4 percent was African-American. Further, there were no African-American editors or women.
On the same day, The Athletic responded to Lee’s tweet, and assured him that the company was working with the NABJ to ensure diverse hiring practices in the future. The Athletic immediately made good on that promise by hiring veteran NBA reporter David Aldridge, ESPN editor Rhiannon Walker, and Lee himself, among others.
“I was just happy that I was able to help our people,” Lee said. “We weren’t even being interviewed for jobs. There wasn’t even an application process at that time. For me, I just wanted to make sure people had a fair opportunity, a fair shot.”
Lee is not slowing down in his attempts to fight for inclusion. He has identified that African-American women are not being utilized optimally as sports journalists, and has committed to continue to fight for opportunities for them.
He encourages those interested in a career in sports journalism to be versatile; he suggests that students think about opportunities beyond the traditional roles of basketball or football reporter. Mixed martial arts and sports analytics are just two examples Lee gives of areas with huge potential, yet very little African-American coverage.
He also suggests that aspiring journalists be “humble, hungry and not entitled.”