Joe Gray Wants to Tackle Distance Running’s Diversity Problem
The pro trail runner reflects on his experiences in a predominantly white sport.
.... if I’m being honest, being a black American in a predominantly white sport has been an interesting and sometimes frustrating journey. There have been few black role models to look up to in distance running.
From his Instagram:
There have been issues I've noticed over the years regarding the lack of coverage of minority athletes, low number of sponsored Black American trail and distance athletes and the disparity of these athletes being given the opportunity to further their running dreams with grass root training groups (whom are funded and sponsored). Much of these issues are attributed to the lack of media focusing on articles, stories and athlete profiles concerning Black athletes. How can myself and other Black American trail runners inspire the next generation of minority athletes if the media which builds interest barely exists?
I was proud that Trail Runner magazine put me on their cover two years ago, but I think I’m only the third black runner to earn that distinction in 20 years. How many times has Runner’s World put black distance runners on its cover in the past several years? Eleven times in the past five years by my count, which includes comedian Kevin Hart (twice), Keflezighi, the Breaking2 runners, an influencer, and fitness models.
But the problem is deeper than just the lack of media coverage. There are few U.S.-born black collegiate and professional distance runners in the U.S because they’re not encouraged to run long distances when they’re in high school, not recruited to run for college programs often, and don’t get offers to join pro teams.
My experiences of running all around the world have taught me to appreciate and respect all people, no matter what their gender, race, religion, or background might be. Running needs to embrace that inclusion—specifically in trail running—so that minority runners can experience the same thrills, challenges, and successes I have been so fortunate to enjoy.