Praise for a Pioneer

Before today’s entry … I just want to say “thanks” to all the folks who obviously read the blog about “Facebook” … and invited me to be their “friends”. I now have more friends than I know what to do with.


Onto today’s entry …. and we all owe someone a debt of gratitude. Whether you are a man or woman, black or white, there is someone who layed down the foundation for you. There’s somebody who blazed the trail in your field allowing you to enjoy the all the fruits of your labors. For me, it’s a gentleman from New Jersey who I did not know until this morning.

Sherman Maxwell died yesterday … at the age of 100. He lived a full life, but it’s what he did back in 1929 that forever would change my life and the lives of any African-American who has broadcasted a sporting event. “Jocko” ( and I have no idea where the nickname came from ) was the first black sportscaster in this country. He started by broadcasting sports news on New Jersey radio stations in 1929 and continued until 1967. In between, he supported himself with a job at the post office because the radio stations would not pay him.

Sherman Maxwell: A pioneer in my field ( photo courtesy: Amanda Brown/Newark Star-Ledger )

He used the airwaves to tell the story of Negro League baseball teams and even owned a team at one point during his life. Maxwell also wrote sports stories for New Jersey newspapers. According to his son, “sports was his life. He read about sports and talked about sports”.

Maxwell may never be as revered … and is not likely to be remembered … the way Jackie Robinson is. He, of course, broke baseball’s color barrier but true equality is never achieved in one stroke. It’s breaking down little barriers that opened the gates for all … and in his corner of the world, Sherman Maxwell did just that.

I started my career as a sportscaster and continued for 10 years in that role here at WTAE. I enjoyed that run because a man eight decades earlier decided that African-Americans could indeed be sports broadcasters. Today, sportscasting giants like HBO’s Bryant Gumbel, CBS’ James Brown, Mike Tirico of ESPN … and our own Jon Burton … all owe Mr. Maxwell a big “thank you” for paving the way for all of us.

He may not a man you will remember long after reading this article, but for this moment let’s all remember his contribution to his profession and to his country.

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