By Kennedi Landry
SJI Class of 2020
In an industry where the majority of workforce and leaders don’t look like her, Lisa Wilson has blazed her own trail to the top of her profession.
The NFL editor for The Athletic will become APSE’s first Black female president in the organization’s 46-year history.
“It’s great and it’s not so great right?” Wilson said. “It’s awesome and wonderful to be the first, but at the same time you think: I know I can’t be the only black woman capable of leading a sports section.”
Wilson is used to being the first black woman.
In the sports industry, it’s almost to be expected. Wilson only got into sports around the eighth grade because she realized that if she wanted to watch TV with her older brothers, it had to be football.
Wilson’s foray into sports journalism started with writing letters to the editor at her hometown paper, The Buffalo News, when she was in middle and high school.
“People encouraged me; I thought maybe this was something I could do,” Wilson said.
And she did.
In 2011, after working for the Buffalo News since 1998, Wilson became the first black woman to become the sports editor. Just two years ago, she was the first black woman to be elected APSE’s second vice-president.
Wilson emphasized that she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support of the people around her, especially Garry D. Howard, the first black APSE president, who reached out to her when she first joined APSE in 2011.
Howard has been a mentor to Wilson, and she hopes to be the same for other young black journalists, especially in her new role.
“In my role as APSE president, it’s so important for people to see a black woman leading this group and know that they can do it too,” Wilson said.
“I always want to do whatever I can to get more journalists of color, especially women, into this field, into leadership positions,” Wilson continued, “and hopefully by seeing me, the ones that come behind me will know that they can do it too.”
Stepping into a leadership role can be difficult no matter when it takes place, but Wilson’s rise to the APSE presidency will be unlike any other because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
The effects of the pandemic have already been felt within the organization with the cancellation of the summer conference in Indianapolis. Instead of the traditional summer conference, APSE will host a Zoom conference on Friday, June 26, from noon to approximately 5 p.m. EST.
Wilson will give her incoming remarks during the virtual conference, and current president Todd Adams will give his outgoing remarks to begin the transition and make it as smooth as possible.
Former APSE president John Bednarowski is hopeful that Wilson’s Zoom-based inaugural address will be as impactful as coming-out speeches of her predecessors.
“That’s the one thing out of the entire convention that I really wish was different and that’s Lisa being able to give her speech with everybody there in person,” Bednarowski said. “I hope she gets to have the same feeling that I had when I gave my speech because that’s one of the things that you work for.”
Bednarowski, who was APSE president from 2018-19, emphasized how Wilson will have a unique experience during her term.
“You hope that everything has returned enough to normal that we have that,” Bednarowski said. “I have no doubt that she’ll come through with flying colors. I just hope it’s a good memory for her like it was for me.”
COVID-19 does not change anything about Wilson’s goals for her presidency, although she does have to adapt them for a new climate.
Continued media access and the ever-changing landscape of journalism are always going to be important parts of the job.
Diversity was the platform Wilson ran on when she campaigned for second vice president in 2018. If anything, Wilson is even more dedicated to being an advocate for diverse newsrooms in the future.
“We don’t know what our industry is going to look like when this is over,” Wilson said. “There’s been layoffs and furloughs, but there are going to be newsrooms to go back to. As long as there are, those newsrooms need to be diverse.”
The coronavirus will have a lasting impact on the profession and APSE. Bednarowski believes there are many unknowns from layoffs and furloughs and beyond.
“A lot of that is going to be outreach, as far as trying to keep APSE’s membership up,” she said. ”But I think now, more so than ever, we’re going to try to do that and try to keep people in the group. That’s part of the reason we’re going to try to do (the conference) on Zoom. We want to keep our membership up and stay in touch and be in the solution business.”
Over the next few months, APSE will work to get a better idea of what the sports landscape will look like and how the organization can work through it.
Wilson says she’s honored to be APSE president and wants to serve the membership in whatever way she can.
“Whatever I can do to talk to people and get more people involved in APSE, I’m always going to do that,” Wilson said. “You’re always trying to bring the next person behind you. I do that in everything I do, including this. It’s awesome to be the first, but I cannot be the last.”