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Ann Schatz on her own terms – Veteran sportscaster broke the mold in Omaha

March 30, 2016 4 comments

Women covering sports today is routine but not so long ago it was a rarity. Ann Schatz broke the mold as the first female sportscaster in Omaha in the late 1970s. She then became the first in Portland, Oregon. In both cities she dealt with serious push-back that got ugly. Not from male colleagues, who supported her, but from fans and viewers. She’s stuck it out to have a big career as a reporter and play-by-play announcer. I distinctly remember when Ann broke through on Omaha television. It really was A Thing and topic for conversation because she was the first. Because viewers, myself among them, were not entirely sure how we felt about her doing sports, which back then was the clear domain of men, we collectively put her through a trial-by-fire period that saw some folks get downright rude and nasty. She rose above it all to prove herself a real pro who could talk and report sports with the best of her male counterparts. Ann’s been away from Omaha a long time but she’s coming back as a keynote speaker for an event I will be at and I’m very much looking forward to meeting her for the first time. However, I feel like we do know each other already as a result of the interview I did with her for the following profile appearing in the April 2016 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com).

Ann hails from a prominent Omaha family. Her brother Thomas Schatz is a noted film educator, historian, and author who wrote one of the forewords fro my book, Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.

 

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Ann Schatz on her own terms – Veteran sportscaster broke the mold in Omaha

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the April 2016 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Omaha native Ann Schatz swears she never meant to be a pioneer. She became one as her hometown’s first female sportscaster in the late 1970s, repeating the feat in Portland, Oregon in 1989. From that Pacific Northwest base she’s traveled to cover the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, where she broke the Tonya Harding story, and the 2000 Sydney, Australia Summer Games. She’s covered everything from the NBA finals to the Boston Marathon to the U.S, Women’s Open Golf Championship.

These days, she does play-by-play of women’s college sports for the Pac-12 Network. sometimes gigging for Westwood One.

Schatz is back in Omaha as keynote speaker for the April 29 Toast to Fair Housing Gala at the Livestock Exchange Building Bsllroom.

As a woman sportscaster, she’s confronted gender bias. As a lesbian, she once hid her sexual orientation for fear of repercussions.

Today, with women sports reporters galore on ESPN and Fox, her story may seem passe. But a few decades ago, even as recently as 2000, a female covering sports raised eyebrows and ire. Being there first paved the way for others.

Schatz’s late father was a federal district judge in Omaha. She grew up playing sports with her siblings.. She competed in basketball and softball at Creighton University. where she earned a broadcasting and mass communication degree. A WOWT internship introduced her to local television sports legend Dave Webber, the first of many men in the business who encouraged her. Still, she didn’t see herself as a sports journalist until KMTV hired her as a weekend sports reporter despite scant experience. The late Terry Yeager mentored her.

Try as she might, she says, “there were very few women role models” in the field then. None locally. Only former beauty queens Phyllis George and Jayne Kennedy nationally. “There wasn’t anything to aspire to. It’s not like you could point to somebody and say, ‘I want to be like her.’ There weren’t any hers, they were all hims.”

She’s mused whether affirmative action or her family name got her in the door but she’s concluded, “It really doesn’t matter why, it just matters what you do with what they’ve given you,” adding, “It didn’t take me long to find out I had found my calling. i knew the questions to ask. I wasn’t afraid of hard work.”

To her surprise and delight, male peers schooled and shielded her.

“They taught me in the most kind, compassionate, relevant way. Those guys saved me and the rest of the newsroom saved me. When I heard potshots from people it would be from athletes and fans, never from my colleagues, and that meant everything to me. I got nothing but support and it was genuine.”

That support extended to her family. From her pre-Title IX childhood on, they championed Schatz’s love of sports.

“It didn’t occur to me girls weren’t supposed to play sports because that’s not how I grew up. In the neighborhood I played with boys all the time and it was no big deal. My brothers taught me how to bat, throw, shoot, run. My dad, my brothers and I read the sports section of the Omaha World-Herald every night. My dad would wake me up in the morning and let me know how my beloved Boston Celtics did the night before. I learned how to read box scores. It never occurred to me this was an odd, difficult activity for a young girl to love and pursue.

“What a gift. What a testament, especially to my father and mother who never once caused me to question it. All they did was encourage.”

 

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Not everybody was so inclusive. In Omaha she endured vitriol from some viewers and fans.

“People would tell me, ‘You suck, we hate you. you’re the worst, we never watch you.’ Some of the stuff that came out of the stands, especially at high school games, was just brutal.

“Some of the athletes would test me. I would remind myself, Hey, you chose this, you knew exactly what to expect, so either figure out a way to deal with it or walk away.”

As bad as it got here, she says. “Portland was tougher initially because I was the girl from the cowtown with the hick accent. It was very much, Are you kidding me – who the hell is she?””

Worse yet, she was far from her family’s embrace.

“I knew not a soul in Portland You can only call home so often. Not having any support personally was really difficult. That made the comments, the letters, the phone calls sting much more. I just didn’t have that ability to vent and let off steam.”

Her saving grace was an empathetic workplace at KOIN-TV.

“Had I had any kind of push-back in that newsroom in Portland I’m not sure I would have lasted. Their support meant everything to me. It was critical I did not bail out on a tough situation. I’m glad I stuck with it. And, hey. look, I’m still here 27 years later.”

Portland’s also an LGBT-friendly place that, she says. is “not counterproductive to my head and heart,” adding that being gay is not something “I lead with, but if it comes up – and it took a long time – I am absolutely comfortable.”

As time went by, she was no longer the lone woman covering sports.

“It was a relief to see another female in those environments in which I was the only one for all those years”

 

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She loves what’s happened at the networks with Erin Andrews and Co.

“God bless that these women are young and blonde and pretty. It’s not just style either, but substance, too. I applaud these women for going in an arena where women are still judged differently.”

She says women are still not immune from double standards she confronted.

“You always had to be better. You were judged much more harshly. Your mistakes were magnified. The smallest things were scrutinized. If a guy got something wrong, like a score, it’d be, ‘Oh, there goes Bob again.’ If I got it wrong, it was, ‘See, I told you – stupid women.’ You always had to be better, more nimble, more prepared.

“As hard as it was, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes where I’d excuse myself because I needed a good cry, that awareness I had to be better helped immensely.”

For all the strides women in sports media have made elsewhere, she notes that after opening the door here and in Portland few have followed her footsteps.

“That makes me sad. I thought there would be more after me. The fact that there isn’t is puzzling.”

She says the playing field will only be level when more women call the shots in media executive suites and in sports organization front offices.

Her biggest professional coup was getting Tonya Harding to address the Nancy Kerrigan imbroglio. KOIN sent Schatz and her cameraman to Lillehammer sans credentials. They were among hundreds of journalists on the outside looking in but found a way to reach Harding when no one else did. “Connie Chung, Dan Rather, 60 Minutes were calling us. We went from the step child to the golden child real quick.”

After years reporting, including sideline work for the Portland Trailblazers, she found her niche doing play-by-play for the Big East, Conference USA and the Pac-12 (soccer, hoops softball). She likes the “purity” of women’s college athletics and its lack of “hired guns.”

“There’s nothing like an in-the-moment call when you gotta get it right. You don’t get to take it back and do it again.”

Unlike the mellifluous tones of her sportscaster idols Vin Scully and Keith Jackson, she’s fast-talking, high-energy, high-emotion.”

She feels privileged witnessing-chronicling great moments in athletics.

“The only way we can understand greatness is to watch athletes do their thing at the highest level. It doesn’t have to be the Super Bowl. Greatness happens at every level if you’re open to it. That’s the beauty of sports.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

 

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Crime and punishment questions still surround 1970 killing that sent Omaha Two to life in prison

March 30, 2016 4 comments

The Omaha Two.
Rice and Poindexter.
Black Panthers.
Larry Minard.
House bombing.
Cop killers.
Those loaded words and names were burned in my memory beginning when I was 12-13 years old and living in North Omaha. The same rhetoric that played a factor in one of this city’s most debated cases also engendered fear and suspicion in what was then the mostly white neighborhood my family resided in at 45th and Maple. Omaha’s most infamous cop killing happened in 1970 when Larry Minard died from a homemade bomb that exploded while he responded to a phony 911 call. Black Panthers David Rice and Edward Poindexter were found guilty by a nearly all white jury. Rice maintained his innocence until his death earlier this month. Poindexter’s never wavered about his own innocence. Supporters point to discrepancies in testimony and evidence used to convict the men. When Rice and Poindexter exhausted most of their appeals by the end of the ’70s and were still only in the first decade of their life sentences, I had graduated Holy Name High School and started at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, but I still lived at home. The neighborhood had become racially mixed. At the end of the ’80s I was still living at home in that same neighborhood which by then had become mostly black. It was around that time that I first became aware of factors not originally known or reported during the Rice-Poindexter trial that cast doubt on the men’s guilt and conviction. In the last decade or so I have met a number of individuals who believe strongly in the men’s innocence. These supporters are certain the men received an unfair trial and were wrongfully convicted. Some believe the pair were outright framed. One of these acquaintances of mine, Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson, got to know the men very well and did extensive interviews with them. She is co-authoring a book about the Omaha Two. New words about the case began to enter my consciousness, such as political prisoners.  Until now, I had never written about the case myself. And in truth this article for the April 2016 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com) is not so much about the case as it is about two journalists with Omaha ties who have written about it: Elena Carter, for the first time and quite recently, did an exhaustive piece for BuzzFeed; and Michael Richardson has written repeatedly about it for a decade or more. Richardson is writing his own book about the case from a particular angle involving the complex saga of the FBI’s covert COINTELPRO program and its persecution campaign against the Black Panthers. My small contribution to the vast amount of writing done about the case is largely broad brush strokes contextualized around the personal and professional mission that Carter and Richardson made their reporting. Therefore, I really don’t go into the details of the case. Perhaps I will in a future story.
Ed Poindexter and David Rice in 1970, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, formerly called David Rice, before they were incarcerated in 1971. we Langa died in 2016.
 
Crime and punishment questions still surround 1970 killing that sent Omaha Two to life in prison

Mondo we Langa’s recent death in prison leaves Ed Poindexter still fighting for his freedom

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

When Mondo we Langa died at age 68 in the Nebraska State Penitentiary last month, he’d served 45 years for a crime he always maintained he did not commit. The former David Rice, a poet and artist, was found guilty, along with fellow Black Panther Ed Poindexter, in the 1970 suitcase bomb murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard. With his reputed accomplice now gone, Poindexter remains in prison, still asserting his own innocence.

Poindexter and we Langa have been portrayed by sympathetic attorneys, social justice watchdogs and journalists as wrongfully convicted victims framed by overzealous officials. The argument goes the two were found guilty by a nearly all-white jury and a stacked criminal justice system for their militant black nationalist affiliations and inflammatory words rather than hard evidence against them. Supporters call them the Omaha Two in reference to a supposed population of American political prisoners incarcerated for their beliefs.

The crucial witness against the pair, Duane Peak, is the linchpin in the case. His testimony implicated them despite his contradictory statements. we Landa and Poindexter dispute his assertions. Today, Peak lives under an assumed name in a different state.

Two writers with Omaha ties who’ve trained a sharp eye on the case are Elena Carter and Michael Richardson. Carter, an Iowa University creative writing graduate student, spent months researching and writing her in-depth February article for BuzzFeed. She laid out the convoluted evidentiary trail that went cold decades ago, though subsequent discoveries cast doubt on the official record of events. Just not enough to compel a judge to order a new trial.

Richardson has written extensively on the case since 2007 for various online sites, including Examiner.com. He lives in Belize, Central America.

Both writers have immersed themselves in trial transcripts and related materials. They visited we Langa and Poindexter in prison. Their research has taken them to various witnesses, experts and advocates.

For Carter, it’s a legacy project. Her father, Earl Sandy Carter, was with the VISTA federal anti-poverty program (now part of AmeriCorps) here in the early 1970s. Richardson, a fellow VISTA worker in Omaha,  says he “came of age politically and socially,” much as Carter did, during all the fervor” of civil rights and anti-war counterculture. Ironically, they did things like free food programs in the black community closely resembling what the Panthers did; only as whites they largely escaped the harassment and suspicion of their grassroots black counterparts.

Earl Sandy Carter edited a newsletter, Down on the Ground, we Langa and Poindexter contributed to. Richardson knew we Langa from Omaha City Council meetings they attended. With their shared liberal leanings, Richardson and Carter teamed to cover the trial as citizen journalists, co-writing a piece published in the Omaha Star.

Elena Carter grew up unaware of the case. Then her father mentioned it as possible subject matter for her to explore. Intrigued to retrace his activism amid tragic events he reported on, she took the bait.

“The more I read about it the more I wanted to look into this very complicated, fascinating case,” she says. “Everything I read kept reinforcing they were innocent – that this was a clear wrongful conviction. Until now, my writing has been personal – poetry and memoir. This was my first journalistic piece. This was different for me in terms of the responsibility I felt to get everything right and do the story justice.”

That sense of responsibility increased upon meeting we Langa and Poindexter on separate prison visits. They were no longer abstractions, symbols or martyrs but real people grown old behind bars.

“It was a lot more pressure than I usually feel while writing, but also a really great privilege for them to trust me to write about them,” she says.

 

Omaha Black Panther Party Headquarters, 3508 N. 24th St., North Omaha, Nebraska

Pictured here at the headquarters of the National Committee to Combat Fascism are Ed Poindexter, Duane Peak and Dorothy Stubblefield. The headquarters of the United Front Against Fascism, formerly the Omaha Black Panther Party and along with the National Committee to Combat Fascism, were located at 3508 N. 24th St. in the Kountze Place neighborhood.

 

She visited we Langa three times, the last two in the prison infirmary, where he was treated for advanced respiratory disease. Though confined to a wheelchair and laboring to breathe, she found him “eccentric, super smart, optimistic, exuberant and still in high spirits – singing, reciting poems,” adding, “He wasn’t in denial he was dying, yet he seemed really determined to live.”

She says, “He was on my mind for a year and a half – it did become highly personal.” She found both men “even-keeled but certainly angry at the situation they found themselves in.” She adds, “Mondo said he didn’t have any anger toward Duane Peak. He saw him as a really vulnerable kid scared for his family. But he did express anger toward the system.”

Richardson, who applied for Conscientious Objector status during the Vietnam War, never forgot the case. Ten years ago he began reexamining it. Hundreds of articles have followed.

“The more I learned, the more I doubted the official version of the case,” he says. “I reached the conclusion the men were innocent after about a year of my research. It was the testimony of forensic audiologist Tom Owen that Duane Peak did not make the 911 call (that drew Officer Minard to a vacant house where the bomb detonated) that made me understand there had been false testimony at the trial. My belief in their innocence has only grown over the years as I learned more about the case.

“Also, my visits and correspondence with both men helped shape my beliefs. Mondo was unflinching with his candor and I came to have a profound respect for his personal integrity. Their stories have never changed. Their denials seem very genuine to me. The deceit of the police agencies has slowly been revealed with disclosures over the years, although much remains hidden or destroyed.”

 

This is Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa. ©2016 Michael Richardson.

Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) well into their prison terms

 

There are as many conspiracy theories about the case as folks making it a cause. Everyone has a scapegoat and boogeyman. Richardson and Carter don’t agree on everything but they do agree the men did not receive a fair trial due to mishandled, concealed, even planted evidence. They point to inconsistent testimony from key witnesses. They see patterns of systemic, targeted prejudice against the Panthers that created an environment for police and prosecutorial misconduct.

The murder of a white cop who was a husband and father and the conviction of two black men who used militant language resonates with recent incidents that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Considerable legal and social justice resources have been brought to bear on the case in an effort to have it reopened and retried.

As Elena Carter wrote, “we Langa and Poindexter’s case has penetrated every level of the criminal justice system, from local officials to former governors to the FBI to the Supreme Court.” Yet, we Langa languished in prison and died there.

Carter reported we Langa’s best chance for a new trial came in 1974, “when he filed an appeal in federal district court, arguing the dynamite and blasting caps recovered from his home during a police search for Duane Peak should never have been received in evidence” because the officers who entered his home “had no probable cause Duane was there.” Contravening and contradictory court rulings affecting that decision have apparently had a chilling effect on any judge taking the case on.

She and Richardson surmise no judicial official in this conservative state wants to overturn or commute a convicted cop killer’s sentence.

“Sadly, when you talk to people about a dead policeman and Black Panthers, the conversation sort of stops,” Richardson says.

“I don’t think enough people know about this case,” says Carter. “Why this case hasn’t been taken as seriously as it should perplexes and frustrates me.”

She and Richardson believe the fact the Omaha Panthers were not prominent in the party nationally has kept their case low profile. The Washington Post did report on it decades ago and Carter says, “I feel like that’s the only time a serious national publication had put it out there they could be innocent.” Until her story.

A documentary examined the case. Noted attorney Lennox Hinds has been involved in the defense effort.

Locally, Ben Gray made the case a frequent topic on KETV’s Kaleiidoscope. Other local champions have included State Sen. Ernie Chambers. Then-Gov. Bob Kerrey was prepared to pardon we Langa, but the prisoner refused on the grounds it would be an admission of guilt. Nebraskans for Peace and others keep the case before officials.

“I would say the Omaha Two case shows the critical need for the news media to monitor the police and courts,” says Richardson.

No major exoneration projects or attorneys have adopted the case,

“I’m not entirely sure why that is after all these years,” Carter says. “I don’t know what their reluctance would be looking into this case more.”

Most observers speculate nothing will change unless or until someone comes forward with dramatic new evidence.

Carter hopes “something more could be done for Ed (Poindexter) at this point.” Barring action by the Nebraska Board of Pardons or Gov. Pete Ricketts, the 71-year-old inmate likely faces the same fate as his late friend given the history of denied appeals attending the case.

“Mondo told me he was paying a debt he did not owe,” Richardson says. “Poindexter deserves a fresh look at his case. I believe in their innocence. They were guilty of rhetoric, not murder.”

View Carter’s story at http://www.buzzfeed.com/e6carter/the-omaha-two# and Richardson’s stories at http://www.examiner.com/topic/omaha-two-1.

 
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