Robert Littal has done a lot since creating Black Sports Online. He’s broken huge stories, often months or years before anyone else, such as LeBron James going to the Lakers, Steve McNair’s wife being charged with his murder, and scores of other examples. He’s had his reporting cited by ESPN and Fox Sports, and also worked with TMZ. He’s launched a successful podcast, which has been doing impressive numbers. He himself is frequently a guest on some of the most influential shows in sports and entertainment.
Perhaps the most important thing he’s had is belief. Belief in himself. Belief in his vision. The belief that there was an underserved group of sports fans that had to see themselves reflected back through the prisms of a mainstream media machine that didn’t understand them. Robert had the belief that his site would be not only successful but necessary to the sports media landscape.
The numbers have proven him right. BSO is the #1 minority-owned independent sports website in the United States.
In our interview, we discussed his beginnings, his career, social media advice, how athletes really are, and a lot more.
Can you tell us about your self?
I am originally from Saint Louis, Missouri. I have been into sports as long as I can remember, my literal first memory is watching Dan Marino on Monday Night Football. I played 3 sports in high school, we always played around the neighborhood it was just something we all did. In the hood, you felt like there were only two ways out sports or rapping.
How’d you get into journalism?
Believe it or not, I always wanted to be a sports journalist. I think it came from the fact that back when I was kid it was different than it is now. There weren’t social media outlets, the internet was just starting, there weren’t streaming services and you had maybe 40-50 cable channels. I was an only child so especially in the summers all I would do is watch any sports they had on and ESPN’s Sportcenter. Back before we got all our information instantly, you would actually have to read sports magazines to learn about the players. My mom joked other kids my age would be reading children’s books, but at like 10 I would read a Sports Illustrated or Sporting News magazine from front to back. I wanted to be Stuart Scott, Dan Patrick, Keith Olberman, Chris Berman and those types of guys.
What’s it like to see Fox, TMZ, and ESPN credit you on air for breaking stories?
In the beginning, it was just validation that the way I was doing things was succeeding. So many people told me there is no way a site with BLACK in front of the name would succeed, but I obviously was proving them wrong. These days it is more expected because mainstream media is a lot more like BSO than BSO is like them. They saw what was working for sites like mine and others and now they try to replicate that.
What are some of your bigger stories?
There are so many that are hard to remember some of the bigger ones. My first big story that we broke was Steve McNair’s murder, we were the first outlet to get confirmation on that. Recently things like D’Angelo Russell snitching on Swaggy P, Jerry Jones threatening to cut players for kneeling and LeBron going to Lakers (I had that one, years before it became official) are just a few. Almost every story these days that BSO does gets some run.
Where do you see sports media heading into the future?
It is watered down now. It is heading the same way our country is heading where journalists care more about the hot takes than journalism. One of the gifts and curses of new age media, as I like to call it is the reporters now, want to become stars and local reporters now have the ability to go national. 20 years ago, you wouldn’t know who the beat reporter was for the Utah Jazz, but if something breaks in Utah now the whole world is looking at that guy or girl. Egos have become involved, the players don’t like the media and now they have more outlets to express that. As someone who tries to give people the entertainment and drama they want while also showing the ability to speak on the actual sports we are covering it is a very fine line. I used to be the youngest and only minority in these media rooms, now I find myself teaching and coaching young black journalists how to navigate these shark-infested waters.
Other than the BSO site what do you have going on?
I do a little of everything. Radio, podcasting, and TV. I do a lot of speaking engagements. I think I have had a unique career, so I try to help as many people as I can.
Who’re some of your peers in journalism that you respect?
That Is a good question, I know people are expecting big names and I have a lot of respect for people in the industry, but the people I truly respect who have really helped me on this journey are people that you would have never heard of because they work behind the scenes those are the really the people who have helped me get to where I am. People like Patrick Byrne at HBO or Mark Fischel at the NBA. People who took a chance on me when they could have just seen this guy with a site that talks about IG Models and said hell nah. People like that are who I truly respect.
What advice would you give someone who was trying to become a sports media personality about social media?
The first thing is if you started off on social media saying wild stuff, delete all those old tweets. Secondly, once you make that decision to be in the industry, you have to stick to it. You don’t see me (and I had to learn to do this) speaking about personal stuff on my professional page about things that don’t concern me or BSO. You don’t see me speaking too much about personal matters. Just stick to the business at hand.
Have you found anything about pro sports surprising?
I think there is one thing a lot of journalists realized once they really start covering sports. When you are young you see these guys as idols with no flaws, but when you get older and it becomes your job, you realized they are just regular people and as regular people some of them are horrible, some of them are ok and some of them are great. The things you know off the record about these guys off the field would definitely shock a lot of people.
Do you ever get feedback from the athletes you cover?
All the time, I think the difference between myself and a lot of sites like mine is I never run away from personal interaction from the people I cover. Meaning that if I write a story about you at some point I am going to see you. If you have a problem with what I wrote we can talk about it. So, there is a level of respect I get from players that others in my industry do not.