Don Champion shares horrible memories of being bullied and discriminated against for being a gay Black man.

Discriminated and Denigrated.When you’re often discriminated against in the workplace, it takes tremendous amounts of courage to speak out against those who are responsible for creating a toxic work environment, especially when you are aware of the consequences of doing so. And I’m stating this from personal experience. I’d like to congratulate Don Champion for outing his bullies.

Below is Mister Champion’s story:

This is my CBS story. I’ve reflected on this photo often in recent years. On one hand, it makes me feel proud that as a news reporter I got the chance to cover huge stories in NYCthe largest and most dynamic market in the country. On the other, it brings back horrible memories of being bullied and discriminated against for being a gay Black man.

I look back and often feel naïve for not thinking it could happen. I can honestly say I’ve never been discriminated against in the way David Friend and Peter Dunn did me at WCBS-TV. Even before I started, my agent warned me, “be careful, you’re gay, Black and a man. David doesn’t like any of those.” I still question how I got in the door at CBS 2 News. In the end, I think it was fate.

I started as a freelancer in the Spring of 2013. In those days, freelancers worked for about a year before they “proved themselves” and got a contract; the difference was a big jump in pay. In the months that followed my start at WCBS, David Friend would use that freelancer status as a tool to bully, intimidate and tear me down- not only as a reporter but also as a human. I was so stressed working at WCBS I even developed eczema.

A brief backstory—I moved to NYC after working in Denver, one of the most respected news markets in the country. My station there demanded that reporters built sources and enterprised. I left Denver the most confident I had been as a journalist. On my first day on-air at WCBS, I infamously scored a market exclusive—surveillance video of a handcuffed suspect who escaped police custody. My colleagues were impressed. Soon, it was clear nothing I could do would impress David Friend.

His first complaint was my “on-air presence.” Months later it was my “voice.” When I went to his office and asked for help paying for a voice coach he said no. Trying to do whatever it took to get a contract, I paid for one on my own. I distinctly remember the voice coach telling me during one session that she was confused about what problem the station had with my voice. Looking back, I now know “presence” and “voice” were code; in Friend and Dunn’s eyes, I was too gay.Don Champion 2

By the end of my time at WCBS about a year and a half later I was asked if I had “gained weight.” 

There. Was. Always. An. Excuse.

And there were consequences for me. The number of days WCBS offered me to work each week ebbed and flowed—depending on how David felt about me. My life and career were under the control of a bigot. After live shots, I’d get emails from David complaining about little things like a fumbled word on-air. One time, he embarrassed me by berating me loudly in the middle of the newsroom. I truly forget what for. It was so loud and unprofessional that an anchor called me in their office afterward pissed at what they had witnessed.

I remember getting on the elevator with Peter Dunn one time and nervously trying to strike up a conversation with him. He ignored me. There were clear double standards for other Black employees behind-the-scenes at WCBS too. So much so that after a Black firefighter died fighting a fire at David’s home. Some of us Black employees were hopeful it would cause him to start treating us better. It didn’t.

After about a year and a half of freelancing, I was told David didn’t feel like “stringing me along anymore” and wouldn’t offer me any more freelance days after the end of the month. I had impressed other managers at WCBS so much so that theyunbeknownst to mespoke up in my defense and I was called days later and told there was a “change of heart.” By that time, I had also started freelancing at CBS News in the Newspath division and turned the “change of heart” down. Before I left, a manager at WCBS even said to me that they hoped I “knew the problem {at WCBS} was never you.” Those words have stayed in my head ever since and I know what the manager meant.

Sadly, the discrimination didn’t stop at WCBS.

At CBS Newspath, word from a manager of me needing to “butch it up” on-air got to me. There was also a complaint about me “queening out” during live shots. When I confided in my VP about this during an incredibly uncomfortable and awkward conversation, she viciously turned against me after being one of my biggest supporters. She had it out for me from that moment on and in July 2017—a few months later—she called my agent and told him she was breaking my contract and letting me go because I “wasn’t her style.”

Don Champion 3

I mention the network part of my story only to drive home the point of how toxic CBS was at the time (I’m told the network is a better place to work now. I truly hope so). My life was upended and my TV news career ruined—starting with the bigotry of the likes of David Friend.

Looking back, I have regrets. I wish I would’ve sued. I wish I would’ve stood up for myself more, but there’s so much fear involved. I’ve been incredibly blessed in the few years since I left news and it’s all reinforced my faith that everything happens for a reason. It’s taken a lot of work to heal, though. Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I was about news and how it was my dream to be a journalist since childhood. A dream and years of hard work stolen from me by blatant bigotry and the sad part isthere are countless other stories.

 

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A day before Don Champion shared this post on social media, CBS released a statement that its Television Stations President Peter Dunn and Senior Vice President David Friend were placed on administrative leave after the National Association of Black Journalists demanded they be fired over a Los Angeles Times investigation into allegations they “cultivated a hostile work environment.”

 

Russell Brooks is an author of four suspense thrillers.

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