To begin the Spring slate of guest speakers, the Marist Center for Sports Communication digitally welcomed Clinton Yates.
Yates is a columnist for ESPN’s The Undefeated and a panelist on Around the Horn. He also appears on E:60 and Outside the Lines. The Washington, D.C. native studied communications at Miami (Ohio) University and has nine years of experience writing for the Washington Post.
To begin the virtual meeting, Yates discussed his professional journey. Although he broke into the sports media field with a job as a local news editor for the Washington Post’s “Express” section, a free daily newspaper, his first love was the radio.
“Listening to the radio was a serious part of how I consumed a lot of media,” he said. “I thought being on the radio was cool. I wanted to do it.”
Upon his arrival to Miami, he joined the student radio station as an analyst for the football team. He only got a few games in before his path drastically changed.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, football games were cancelled for the next two weeks. To keep busy, Yates wrote a piece for the student paper about how football returning is a step forward to restoring normalcy. An editor told Yates he was awaiting his article for next week, and he saw a new part of his career open. “Well, I guess this is something that I do now,” Yates recalled thinking.
This anecdote is important, Yates said, because he realized the importance of being a multifaceted talent with the ability to create written, radio and TV content. “I sort of said to myself, ‘If you learn all three, if two of them fail, you got a job,’” he said. “That was basically how I looked at it. Radio was my first love but it was an avenue to something else. I began writing more.”
Yates explained that each skill feeds into another, saying, “Writing makes talking on the radio fun. Talking on the radio makes me better at TV. Being on TV makes a lot more people want to talk to me when I write.” He added that this cycle took years of experience to cultivate.
When asked if it was better to master one skill or have multiple, Yates said the way to avoid becoming “binary” is to learn as much as you can. The opportunity to try different things with the leeway to make mistakes is “the thing about college that’s cool,” he said. “Get your reps. Get as many different things as possible.”
Yates laid out three simple steps in the order of their importance to stand out in this competitive industry. “Look good. Be nice. Take chances.” he stated. Yates elaborated that looking good meant creating a look that’s authentic and personable, explained that you shouldn’t be a jerk just because the business is cutthroat and stressed the importance of seizing opportunities. “You gotta do something you’ve never done to get something you’ve never had,” he said.
A student asked Yates about working on Around the Horn. “I learned more from Around the Horn than any job I’ve done in my life, period, in the last three years,” he said. Yates explained that in addition to the other panelists and host, he has a director and producer in his ear that he needs to be aware of, a hugely important juggling act that can make or break a panelist’s ability. He also learned how deep preparation can go. The producers and staffers, which he said is arguably the best he’s ever worked with, create detailed packets and cheat sheets that cover the biggest news topics.
Yates also talked about how athletes and sports media address social issues. When asked to discuss athletes increasingly using their platform to speak out about issues of racism, namely about the murder of George Floyd, he said that the increase of outcries against systemic racism in 2020 had been building up for years. “To me, this started with Trayvon, in many ways,” he said, referring to the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin that ocurred in 2012.
Yates identified the riots in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 as another moment that began to normalize discussions about issues of racism. He said that those tragedies created a more “natural progression” for kids to speak out about those issues when they reached the collegiate and professional levels.
“[The death of] George Floyd very much was when the sports world, I think, caught up to everybody else in terms of what we had to talk about in public,” Yates said, adding that the Milwaukee Bucks’ wildcat strike during the playoffs was a moment when “the top sort of blew open on this.”
In a column about the strike, Yates explained that it didn’t need to create any sudden changes. “It can just be a break,” he said. “You can see how tired these dudes are. You can see how worn down these dudes are. And I know that feeling ‘cause I’m Black, too.”
Yates’ last subject that he touched on was burnout, which he emphasized was real and serious. He described an incident when he greatly suffered from it.
As the host of Outside the Lines following Bob Ley’s retirement in 2019, Yates was commuting to Bristol, CT from Washington, D.C. multiple times a week, which added to the stress he felt on top of taking over a program that aired in the middle of the day every day.
“One day I got up, took the cab to the airport,” he recalled. “I looked at the gate, I looked at the building. I just started crying and I said, ‘I can’t get on this plane right now. I can’t do this.’ I was so worn out. All the news was so heavy. I hadn’t seen anybody I even knew as a friend in, like, two whole weeks. It was my fourth flight of the week – it was a Wednesday.”
Yates recalls calling his editor in full tears saying how he couldn’t get on the plane, to which he replied, “It’s called burnout, man. Go home.” He said the point of sharing that story was to showcase that “the limitations of the human experience are very real. You’ve gotta listen to yourself, not just in terms of your brain but your body…Just because the internet doesn’t cut off doesn’t mean you can’t cut off.”
The Center will be next be hosting Kenny Mayne from ESPN on Friday Feb. 26 at 5:00 p.m.
Edited by Nicholas Stanziale