I decided to mark the last day of Black History Month with a spotlight on my dad, Roscoe Nance,the first black sportswriter to work at a daily newspaper in Mississippi.
My dad wrote his way into history in 1978, when he joined the staff of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson.
DISCLAIMER: In true reporter fashion, I trusted the statement, but still had to verify. So I asked my dad how he knew he held this distinction.
“Well,” he said. “I knew the Clarion-Ledger had never had a black sportswriter and none of the other smaller towns would have been progressive enough to do it.”
Jackson is Mississippi’s capital and its largest city.
While at the Clarion-Ledger my dad covered the Southwestern Athletic Conference– commonly known as the SWAC– “at a time when the conference’s member institutions were largely ignored by the mainstream media.”
To say my dad
was is a sportswriter is correct, but that statement fails to capture the impact he had on journalism. He brought a depth and breadth to coverage of black college sports that had never before been seen. And in effect, he ended up chronicling the making of legends, such as an amazing wide receiver from Crawford, Miss., who few knew about or paid attention to: Jerry Rice.
I was a toddler in April 1985 when I went with my dad to Rice’s brother’s apartment in Jackson where they watched the NFL Draft on TV. By the end of the day Rice would be a San Francisco 49er. By the end of the decade he would be one of football’s most hailed players.
My dad left Jackson in 1985 and joined the staff of USA Today, where he covered soccer and later on the NBA. He continued to write about black college sports and in 2007 he wrote the obituary for for Grambling State University football coach Eddie Robinson.
Over the span of his journalism career, my dad established himself as an expert in black college sports and helped establish the SWAC Alumni Association, which recognizes and honors SWAC athletes.
I’m still floored by the fact that my dad was a trailblazer just 34 years ago–but not any less proud. Societal change can be, and often is, very protracted. And it’s often the most unexpected people who life chooses to usher a revolution. In this case it was my dad.