Q&A: WKAR’s Al Martin on ‘sticking to sports’

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Athletes and the sports media have gotten criticism for not “sticking to sports,” instead letting social issues and discussion creep into the sports media.

Al Martin, host of WKAR Radio’s Current Sports since April 2013, joined Spartan Newsroom reporter Zachary Swiecicki to talk about the issue.

Martin has used social media, like Twitter, as well as his hourlong radio show to give his opinion on everything in and around the world of sports. He also uses the show to answer calls from fans and start a conversation about social issues that arise from sports.

Spartan Newsroom: Ever since Colin Kaepernick chose to take a knee last season, and as the 2016 presidential elections continued to creep into sports with athletes and coaches speaking out, how much of a balance did you have to find between sports, politics and social issues?

Al Martin: When it came to the Kaepernick story, what I had to get many of my listeners to understand is that this is a sports story — that happens to have a foundation on social injustice and politics. I knew that I didn’t want to tip-toe around the subject and I knew that my bosses would back me based on how they’ve handled allowing me to talk about other stories of similar nature in the past. I came on my show and stated that I support Kaep’s kneeling during the anthem, however, I understood why owners wouldn’t want to sign him due to Kaep being a backup quarterback and not wanting to sign a backup with that kind of distraction.

SN: How much did you hear from listeners, peers or bosses during that stretch?

Martin: My listeners loved talking about the topic. We had a few that agreed and some that disagreed. However, we did have a problem with one caller who came on the show and said, “The only people who are upset here in America are the black people…” and we had to hang up immediately on him.

SN: Sports and politics don’t traditionally go together, but when the election is going on and people are talking about tweets instead of issues, or when Kaepernick kneels and people are talking about disrespect instead of equality, how important do you believe it is to not “stick to sports” and use your platform?

Martin: I think sports and politics have gone hand in hand for quite some time. Sports have historically been a window into the social climate of the time. It showed us how evil racism can be when we watched Jackie Robinson break the color barrier in baseball. Tommie Smith and John Carlos used their platform, literally, to protest inequality during the national anthem at the Olympics. LeBron James and his tribute to Trayvon Martin. Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor and Muhammad Ali during the Ali Summit in support of Ali, who refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army. My family always raised me to not be afraid to stand up for what’s right, especially when I have the kind of platform that I do. I realize that as a member of the media, I have a platform to mold and use my position to enlighten and educate. If I don’t speak on inequality with my mic, I would feel like I’m cheating my moral character and that will never sit well with me. With great power, comes great responsibility, as Uncle Ben would say.

SN: Lastly, since you have been hosting Current Sports for a few years now, how have you seen the business change in that time span in reference to “sticking to sports”?

Martin: Throughout my time here at WKAR, I have seen the industry become more opinion-based. Shows like “First Take” and “Undisputed” have triggered many copy-cats across the sports broadcasting genre and opinion is what sells. “Hot takes” are getting more and more clicks and with the industry losing money by the month, big personalities with bold sound-bites are trending. Is this a winning formula in the long-run? Who knows. But, like I always tell students, be yourself and success will follow. And don’t “stick to sports” because those days are long gone.

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