All Stephen J. Gaither wanted to do was marry his two loves - news and sports. So, he decided to earn a journalism degree in hopes of one day working in a newsroom as a sports journalist.
But that didn’t happen.
After graduating from Winston-Salem State University in 2009, he couldn’t find a newsroom to make his home. So the young North Carolina man worked odd jobs and freelanced with the hope that one day he would make a mark in sports journalism.
“I had been out of school for three years,” said Gaither, founder and news director of HBCU Gameday. “I wanted to work at ESPN and cover the NBA. I was freelancing for the local newspapers and doing customer service jobs.”
The lack of job opportunities would force Gaither to fill a niche, a journey that he said wasn’t easy but considering the then job market he said he really didn’t have anything to lose. He launched what is now known as HBCU Gameday.
Gaither’s career goals may not have been as easy as he thought. The odds were against him. According to a 2021 report from the Institue of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), nearly 77.1 percent of sports reporters are white and 79.2 percent of sports editors are white even though the number of black people in sports journalism has increased over the years.
“I started to doubt myself,” said the 36-year-old. “I was still trying to do stuff to get hired at a newspaper to make no money. I decided to take a risk on me.”
The birth of a new media platform
It’s 2012, Gaither’s alma mater is doing well in sports. The year prior, Gaither had started a WordPress blog but neglected to keep up with it. After being passed over for a number of jobs, he decided to revisit the blog by covering HBCU sports.
“I started covering schools I could get to,” said Gaither who at the time didn’t have a reliable car. “I didn’t have any money to invest in marketing. I knew how to use Facebook and Twitter. I just started tweeting and talking about it. My school was doing really well athletically at that point,” Gaither said. “I realized we had better coverage than a lot of HBCUs.”
He initially covered Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in North Carolina for the first two years, started aggregating content from other sources, and added his quirky sense of humor to social media posts.
“There wasn’t a lot of just content, consistent content, timely content that was coming out of one place about HBCUs. I started thinking about the niche that I wanted to fill. Even if I couldn’t go to a game I would still keep scores and tweet them out,” Gaither said. “I just didn’t want to be like any of the other college sports stuff you see out there.” For four years he would produce content for HBCU Gameday and continue to work odd jobs to pay bills and take care of himself.
“It’s just now starting to work out in a lot of ways. It’s just now starting to work out financially. I’m actually doing what I have been. A little over a year ago we weren’t even able to pay ourselves.”
HBCU Gameday has come a long way, said Gaither who hasn’t worked for anyone else since 2016. In April, there were more than one million page views, a number that has been consistent every month since. The platform transitioned from being a blog to a media outlet. He has two business partners, they produced two sports programs on Aspire TV and partnered iOne Digital Network who helped ramp up their revenue. They also added freelance writers and photographers that help with coverage.
“I just think it’s definitely been a labor of love from day one,” said Gaither. “It’s been a lot of times where it could have ended. I’m proud of myself for not giving up and being able to find people like my partners to be able to do the work with me. We’ve gone through spells where we might work for an entire month and make a couple hundred dollars. That’s not fun, that’s not easy but now we are able to see the fruits of our labor and that’s great. I don’t think we’ve reached anywhere near where we’re going to be.”