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By Elizabeth Ann Atkins

I’d been immersed in newspaper articles from the 1800s and early 1900s for a book project, and was deep into the writing, when I glimpsed one of the most obnoxious things I’ve ever read in the local media. 

I was shaking with anger and insult over this article with the headline:

Time to throw that old Barry Sanders No. 20 jersey in the trash.”

Then Detroit Free Press Sports Writer Carlos Monarrez wrote in the Sept. 23 article: 

I’m about to write something that will upset many Detroit Lions fans. Hear me out.

OK, here it goes: Take your Barry Sanders jersey and throw it in the trash.

I know, I know. You’re mad. But it’s for your own good, because everyone has to get past Barry. We have to let go of him. It has been almost 20 years, people. We almost have to forget he existed.
— Carlos Monarrez



Oh my goodness, where do I start?   Real quick:

1.     Barry Sanders is a beloved Detroit legend.  Show him some RESPECT!  And EMPATHY.  That means asking, “How would I feel if someone did that to me?” before you do or say or WRITE anything.  I’ve never met Barry Sanders.  I saw him once in person, picking up his son at my son’s sports camp, and he looked like a really nice guy being a caring dad. 

How do you think his kids feel reading such a mean article about him?  Or his parents, if they’re still living?  After I read this article, I actually Googled to see if he had done something bad to warrant criticism in the media, and he HASN’T!  In fact, what I learned was that when he first played for the Lions in 1989, he was the NFL’s Rookie of the Year.  Then in 1997, he was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.  MVP of the entire NFL!

I wish I owned his jersey; it would be framed on my wall.  Then in 2004, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2.    When I was a Detroit News reporter during the early 1990s, we had something called Gannett 2000 and its mission was to recruit journalists of color into our newsroom and to include stories and experts showcasing our diverse community and world. 

So today I’m extra mad that my joy over seeing a Hispanic byline in the local newspaper whose staff was once entirely white men is over a story insulting a black man.  I’m not saying journalists of color should be unobjectively nice to the people of color they write about.  I’m saying people of every race, ethnicity, and religion should show the same respect that they desire for themselves and their families to EVERY PERSON they encounter in person or about whom they write.

As a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, I became aware that many journalists want to make headlines by making someone else look bad.  Granted, some people deserve that, when they commit crimes or other atrocities.

Sports heroes such as Barry Sanders deserve praise. 

3.    Next, the logic of the article, from what I could decipher, is flawed.  Celebrating the new guys on the team can be done with infinite exuberance WITHOUT insulting players of the past.  This has nothing to do with whether I “get” the point of the sports analysis.  I am speaking out for humanity, journalism, and Detroit.

4.    The Spirit of Detroit is SPARKLING!  Literally, when the article ran, the Dlectricity festival was lighting up the cultural center.  Our city is an exciting, vibrant, beautiful place, and—as someone who lived downtown for 20 years—it’s beyond thrilling. 

Regarding the Lions in particular, Ford Field stands as a monument to our city’s huge progress, and the throngs of fans creating rivers of light blue and gray in our streets before and after games is an additionally exciting vision for our once “dead” city.  Therefore, our journalists should embrace this celebratory Spirit of Detroit and praise our people—from those with famous names, to everyday folks—with kindness and respect.

Our beloved Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin even wrote a song about this word that should be one of the strongest threads in the beautiful tapestry that is our city.  RESPECT.

I hope the Detroit Free Press will balance the mean article by publishing something exalting about Barry Sanders to showcase the amazing contributions that he has made to our city as an athlete, a dad, and as someone whose jerseys should be displayed proudly and whose memory as a Detroit Lions superstar should be cherished.  


(c) 2017 Elizabeth Ann Atkins


#barrysanders #lions #detroitlions #detroit #journalism #civility #writing #

Catherine Greenspan