While the players are usually the main attractions, certain sports broadcasters can become part of the home-viewing experience. During his time in the booth, for example, John Madden often provided as much excitement as the game itself. While NBC’s Mike Tirico isn’t in the legendary broadcaster’s category just yet, he has become one of the most recognizable names on sports television.
Given his lengthy career as a member of the sports media, Mike Tirico is no stranger to interviews. One, which took place in 1991, however, made headlines for an unexpected reason: the broadcaster said that he wasn’t sure if he was Black.
Mike Tirico has had a successful broadcasting career
In the world of sports broadcasting, the sound of Mike Tirico’s voice might not send viewers running to their televisions. With that being said, though, the NBC sportscaster has still had quite the career.
Tirico cut his teeth in New York state, attending Syracuse University and working as the sports director at a local CBS affiliate. In 1991, he made the leap to national TV, joining ESPN. He worked as a SportsCenter anchor and appeared on ESPNews, in addition to taking on a variety of play-by-play duties across ESPN proper and ABC.
In 2016, Tirico crossed the television rubicon, however, and joined NBC Sports. While he didn’t land the Thursday Night Football play-by-play gig, he’s still been an invaluable acquisition for the network, covering golf, the Olympics, and Notre Dame football with occasional forays into NHL, NFL, and other coverage areas as necessary.
Addressing his race in a 1991 interview
As someone who’s been a member of the media for more than 30 years, Mike Tirico has done his share of interviews. One of them, however, continues to resurface decades later.
In a 1991 story from Syracuse’s The Post-Standard, the discussion drifted toward race. That’s where Tirico’s headline-grabbing position surfaced.
“Local African-American groups often invite him to speak during Black History Month and on other occasions, viewing Tirico as a prominent example of a successful black professional,” the story, which was partially preserved by Barstool Sports and referenced by The Root, explained. “He doesn’t mind speaking, Tirico tells them, but he also lets them know a fact of his life: He’s not sure he’s black. ‘When people go around and say, ‘You are black’ – well, I don’t encourage it, but by the same token I don’t back off of it,” he says. ‘If you want to call me that, that’s fine. But, you know, in my whole family, there’s nobody I know who is black.’
The story also provided a bit more detail about that family.
“Tirico’s parents, Donald and Maria, were separated when he was about 4, and he says he has since lost contact with his father’s side of the family,” the piece continued. “Tirico is an only child. Because of his dark skin and ethnic features, Tirico says, most people assume he is black. But he’s seen pictures of his father, his father’s mother and his father’s sister—all of whom are white, Tirico says.”
“The only contact I had growing up was with my mom’s side of the family. And they are all as white as the refrigerator I’m standing in front of right now,” the broadcaster added.
What has Mike Tirico said about his race more recently?
While Mike Tirico’s made those comments almost three decades ago, they still surface from time to time on social media. Based on that reality, it’s not surprising that he prefers to avoid discussing his race these days.
In 2017, for example, Tirico was the subject of a New York Times story. There, race—and a reference to the 1991 interview—came up as a topic of discussion.
“Tirico will tell you he is an Italian guy from Queens, raised by a single mother, Maria,” Juliet Macur wrote. “But if you ask him deeper questions about his background, or about his being one of the most prominent broadcasters of African-American lineage on television, he doesn’t want to engage. He has been dealing with questions about his race for years, most of the time wearily.”
His weariness, it seems, continued into the New York Times piece.
“But these days, at a time when the nation is transfixed by a discussion of race relations, Tirico just doesn’t want to go there,” Macur explained. “He told me to say he was mixed race, and that was that.
“Why do I have to check any box?” Tirico said. “If we live in a world where we’re not supposed to judge, why should anyone care about identifying?”