I'm eager to plunge into the controversy at ESPN involving two female hosts, race, and what some call the imposter syndrome.
But first, let me share a story.
As a journalist, I've asked so many questions of other people over the years that I rarely get stumped when one is put to me. But it does happen.
Last summer, during the pandemic lockdown, a friend and television journalist brought a film crew to my home for an interview. On camera, we talked about a good many things -- from immigration policy to public education.
Then came this: "Do you think you were hired as a syndicated columnist because you're Latino?"
It's a fair question. The last time I counted, of the several dozen nationally syndicated columnists in the country, only five of us are Latino. The figure is close to 6%. The U.S. population is nearly 20% Latino. The industry can do better. These days, diversity is a business necessity.
It's natural to wonder if being an anomaly gives one a leg up in the hiring process. I myself have seen this benefit conservatives who were quickly hired onto newspaper editorial boards on which liberals were overly represented.
But it's also a ridiculous question. For one thing, it came 20 years too late. That's how long I've been in this game, while other columnists have come and gone. Once you've found your voice and connected with your audience -- on your way to writing more than 3,000 columns -- you develop self-confidence that allows you to stop worrying about what may have helped get you in the door.
Something similar occurred during my freshman year in college. When I realized that I would sink or swim on my own, I stopped being bothered by the fact that high school friends -- whose grades weren't as good as mine -- had suggested I would not have been accepted to Harvard if I "hadn't been Mexican."
All of which brings me to the prickly tale of Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor, two ESPN hosts who -- right about now -- must be wondering if that network is big enough for the both of them.
Nichols is White, and Taylor is Black. Yet what has transpired between them isn't as clear as black and white.
Last July, in what Nichols thought was a private conversation, she shared some blunt words about her network's handling of so-called diversity hires. The conversation was actually being recorded on a network video camera and transferred directly to a server at ESPN's headquarters, and it was later leaked.
Were her remarks racist? Not really. Nichols' sharpest barbs weren't aimed at Taylor but at ESPN, which the host said had an abysmal record on diversity.
Nichols was upset that ESPN executives had decided that Taylor would host the network's coverage of the NBA finals. She vented her frustrations during a phone call with Adam Mendelsohn, a longtime adviser of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.
"I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world -- she covers football, she covers basketball," Nichols told Mendelsohn. "If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity -- which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it -- like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away."
Nichols has since apologized for her remarks.
The host apparently considered covering the playoffs to be her "thing" because, as she told Mendelsohn, "this job is in my contract in writing."
That's where Nichols went wrong. She has no "thing." A TV hosting gig -- like a syndicated column -- doesn't belong to the people who perform those tasks. We just borrow it for a while. We serve at the pleasure of media companies.
By all accounts, Taylor is a first-rate TV host who's got the goods, and she got where she is on her own merit. Still, perhaps her race did give her a leg up.
In my case, I hope that's true. With every opportunity I've had in media, I hope the person who hired me came into the process thinking that he or she had to choose between a person of color or the "most qualified" person for the job -- and came away realizing that, sometimes, the most qualified is a person of color.