Professional sports broadcasting lacked Black voices for numerous years. This is down to Black announcers simply not being allowed in the booth or Black professional league simply not getting coverage. Sherman Maxwell, also known as “Jocko Maxwell,” made history as the first Black sports announcer ever.
A Newark, New Jersey native, Sherman Maxwell was born December 18, 1907. His name came from Union general William Tecumseh Sherman. An avid baseball fan, he failed his senior year exams to stay another year to play for Central High School’s team. After high school, Maxwell wanted to attend East Orange’s Panzer College of Physical Education, but the school didn’t accept Black students.
Jocko Maxwell would take a similar path to his father, a journalist for the Newark Star-Ledger, and began broadcasting sports reports for WNJR in 1929. His slot was five minutes weekly but could be heard in New Jersey and New York City.
The position with WNJR led to work for Jersey City’s WHOM and a show called “Sport Hi Lites” and on Coytesville’s WRNY on the show “Runs, Hits, and Errors.” He would get the opportunity to interview a number of star athletes in both the Negro Leagues and other professional sports leagues. Maxwell began hosting “Five Star Sports Final” for WWRL in 1938 which proved to be a major success for the station.
Four years later, Jocko Maxwell became WWRL’s sports director. During this time, none of the stations he paid him. His only payment in broadcasting was $7 each advertising spot for Ballantine Beer. Despite this, he was able to make a living through sports journalism and working as a postal worker, writing for reports for different publications on baseball. This allowed for him to found the semi-pro Newark Starlings, which he also managed.
Prior to entering the Army during World War II, he also served as a sports announcer for the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues. While in the military, he was a part of the Army Special Services Department which entertained fellow servicemen.
Later Career and Death
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he focused more on his writing, doing articles for many Black newspapers in the country. His articles were mainly about the history of baseball, particularly the Negro Leagues. Maxwell relied on extensive records he’d kept of games for decades.
By 1967, he had retired from sportscasting. Maxwell was inducted into the Newark Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994 but was never inducted into the National Hall of Fame. At 93, he would finally get the opportunity to visit in 2001. Seven years later, he passed on July 16, 2008, as a result of pneumonia.