Six months after graduating, Eric Barrow ’93 was knocking around Tokyo, brushing up on his Japanese, and considering a career in international relations when the Wisconsin football team rolled into town for a big game at the Tokyo Dome.
Barrow, a lifetime sports devotee who had dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, sneaked onto the practice field and met Steve Rushin, a reporter for Sports Illustrated. They went out to dinner, and Barrow recalls asking Rushin, “So let me get this straight: you travel the world covering sports, get locker-room passes, go out to dinner, and Sports Illustrated picks up the tab? Why the hell am I not doing this?”
Pretty soon he was. Back in Madison, Barrow and two friends started a local sports publication, and by 2000, he was an editor for the New York Post. In 2003, he landed a spot at the New York Daily News, and last year he was named sports editor for the paper, becoming one of only a handful of African American sports editors at major U.S. daily newspapers.
“All of a sudden, to have people reaching out to me to talk about that was a little overwhelming,” Barrow says, “but I saw the responsibility to bring stories that I am interested in to our publication.”
Just before being named sports editor, Barrow joined a special in-depth coverage team at the New York Daily News and wrote “Doin’ Pain,” a story about a group of rehabilitated gang members who reduce gang violence in New York City through mediation. The story won best-feature awards from the New York State Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists.
As sports editor, one of Barrow’s daily decisions is what to put on the back page — the tabloid’s prime real estate. Last July, in response to the shootings of unarmed black men by police, he encouraged one of his writers to weigh in on why professional athletes should address the issue. During the week when that column ran, two more black men were killed by police, and five police officers were gunned down in Dallas.
When New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony posted a powerful call to action on Instagram challenging fellow professional athletes to demand change, Barrow ran Anthony’s words and image — and nothing more — on the back page. “I think that page was shared more than 100,000 times,” Barrow says. “To be in a position where I could respond, be part of that conversation, and make a small difference was special,” he says.
Originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of On Wisconsin Magazine.