Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Outdoors

‘The Difficult Discussion’: Tampa’s Ronnie Green talks social justice, more on fishing show

The fishing pro brought together four of his peers for an open conversation about race in a series of special episodes.
Ronnie Green releases a snook that he caught while fishing earlier this month in Channel A in Upper Tampa Bay.
Ronnie Green releases a snook that he caught while fishing earlier this month in Channel A in Upper Tampa Bay. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 1, 2020
Updated Dec. 1, 2020

TAMPA — For seven years, Ronnie Green struggled to fulfill his mother’s dying wish.

The former All-American sprinter had also achieved success in the military and corporate sectors in the years following his graduation from Texas Tech in 1991. He was a commanding officer in the Marine Corps after six years of service and later worked as a corporate executive following sales stints in healthcare companies.

But his mother, Juanita, knew he hadn’t yet found his true calling. Before she died unexpectedly in 2008, she told Ronnie she wanted him to use his gifts — his ability to understand and connect with people — for something more.

Green, to his surprise, found the perfect fit as the host of a fishing show. His 30-minute show, A Fishing Story, airs weekly on CBS Sports Network. It will start its ninth season in January.

The platform allowed Green, a world-renowned pro fisherman, to share his passion for the sport while passing along tips and techniques to viewers. He learned to build relationships with guests and developed a knack for uncovering their untold stories.

The show might not have provided a bigger service to its audience than after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck this year in Minneapolis.

Green, 53, of Tampa brought together four of his peers for an open conversation about race relations in the fishing community, as well as society at large. For 2-1/2 hours, they talked candidly about their personal experiences and shared their perspectives on what was happening in the world around them.

When they finished filming what would be distilled into two 30-minute episodes, Green said the group — and, no doubt, its audience — left feeling enlightened.

“We’re the sum of all of our life’s experiences,” he said.

• • •

Green was 5 years old when he caught his first fish.

The outing with his father, Ralph Sr., prepared him for a childhood of fishing with his great-grandmother, Macy, an avid fisherwoman, growing up in San Antonio, Texas.

Granny, as he called her, would fish under a bridge in Three Rivers, Texas, in a dress and stockings, carrying her pistol at her side and waiting for the perfect bite on her line. It was her safe place.

Green was Granny’s “gofer,” fetching her things until she had what she needed. She was two generations removed from slavery and didn’t talk much about her life’s experiences around family.

But she bonded with her great-grandson when it was just the two of them out on the water. They’d have difficult conversations about her upbringing, their family, the world, and life itself.

“That was where A Fishing Story was born,” Green said. “Fish don’t bite all day long, so you have to talk in-between.”

Ronnie Green enjoys a fishing trip in Upper Tampa Bay earlier this month.
Ronnie Green enjoys a fishing trip in Upper Tampa Bay earlier this month. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Eight seasons — and 15 Telly Awards — later, A Fishing Story’s mission remains the same: teach people something, but let them teach you something, too. Anyone can learn something from anyone.

This is especially evident in the episodes featuring female guest stars. In an industry that doesn’t predominantly feature women, Green said he feels it’s important to show a narrative where gender doesn’t matter.

It’s something Granny always wanted, too, when the two of them watched fishing shows together.

“She’d point out all the men on these shows and say how much she wished women were on there, too,” Green recalled. “She used to tell me all the time that everybody can catch fish.”

• • •

Green was weighing in his fish on stage during a tournament in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in 2015 when his life changed direction.

He was one of about 200 contestants who had spoken at the microphone that night, but for some reason he caught the attention of a World Fishing Network producer. The producer pegged Green as a TV host.

He went home and talked things over with his wife, Yvette. Then he went to work writing up a 28-page business plan. But he lacked one thing — a title to sum it all up.

A few weeks later, Green awoke from a sound sleep at 3:30 a.m. He reached over and shook his wife, eager to share his idea for the name of his show.

“I got it,” Green told her. “A Fishing Story.”

“Ronald,” Yvette replied, “that could have waited until the morning.”

Green grabbed a notebook from his bedside table and jotted down the title that has followed him around for the past five years.

“It was a Forrest Gump story,” Green said of his start in television. “The rest was history.”

• • •

Green’s always enjoyed the life of an angler. Inshore, deep sea and bass fishing are among his favorites.

But it’s not just the fight for the fish that entertains him, the way some fish perform acrobatics coming out of the water or make him work for 45 minutes for a single catch.

Green uses the sport as a form of therapy, disconnecting from the outside world as soon as he leaves the dock.

Ronnie Green holds a large redfish that he caught while fishing earlier this month in Channel A in Upper Tampa Bay. At right is Clara Rickabal, a nurse out of Boulder Creek, Ca., who is the subject of a recent episode of Green's television show.
Ronnie Green holds a large redfish that he caught while fishing earlier this month in Channel A in Upper Tampa Bay. At right is Clara Rickabal, a nurse out of Boulder Creek, Ca., who is the subject of a recent episode of Green's television show. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

But fishing didn’t lull Green into ignoring what was right in front of him as he watched the unrest around the country in the wake of Floyd’s death in May.

Green felt like he needed to do something, but it needed to be appropriate and impactful. He was getting calls, text messages and direct messages from friends and viewers asking how he planned to respond and when he would speak out.

He called some of his friends in the industry, asking for their thoughts and how they thought they could make things better.

Green decided to have a discussion with four of his closest friends, who are also fishermen: Mark Daniels and Brian Latimer, who are among only a few Black professional fishermen; as well as Steve Dial and James Watson.

Ronnie Green works to land a snook while fishing earlier this month in Channel A in Upper Tampa Bay.
Ronnie Green works to land a snook while fishing earlier this month in Channel A in Upper Tampa Bay. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

They came from different backgrounds and brought unique perspectives to some of the hot-button issues facing many around the country.

One night in July, Green woke at 1 a.m. and grabbed his notepad — not bothering to wake his wife this time — and scribbled, “The Difficult Discussion.” It would become the title for the pair of special episodes that aired that month.

For 150 minutes, the five men talked honestly and in depth about police brutality, kneeling during the national anthem and other social-justice issues. The conversations weren’t easy, but they heard each other out and the discussion ended on a positive note.

“We learned new things about each other,” Green said. “It was so raw.”

While the speakers had different opinions, Green found the takeaway was the same: we need to communicate more with one another rather than talking at each another.

Listening to others. Encouraging them to share their stories.

They’re gifts Green has always had.

The show has simply helped to bring them out into the open.

No doubt, his mother would approve.

“Sometimes you must be what you’re looking for,” Green said, “regardless of the industry.”

Have an outdoor adventure we should try? Curious about the ins and outs of fishing seasons in Florida? Know a cool business or owner to profile? Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.