A Level Playing Field??

By Dr. Richard Lapchick
Updated: April 1, 2010

ORLANDO, Fl. – How do race and gender affect sports? Are we playing fair on and off the field when it comes to race and gender?

The 2009 Racial and Gender Report Card marked the first time that the five leagues received A’s for race. That is indeed noteworthy. It is imperative that sports teams play the best athletes they have available to win games.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida strives to emphasize the business value of diversity to sports organizations when they choose their team on the field and in the office.

Diversity initiatives like diversity management training can help change attitudes and increase the applicant pool for open positions. It is obviously the choice of the organization regarding which applicant is the best fit for their ball club.

But The Institute wants to illustrate how important it is to have a diverse organization involving individuals who happen to be of a different race or gender because it can provide a different perspective, and possibly a competitive advantage for a win in the board room as well as on the field.

Major League Baseball continued improving its record on the issue of racial and gender hiring practices. This is especially true in the League’s Central Offices and in the positions of manager and general manager where Commissioner Bud Selig has the most direct influence.

Baseball received it first ever full A for race and a B for gender. MLB received an A- for race and a C+ for gender in the 2008 Report Card.

The MLB report was again released on April 15th, Jackie Robinson Day. Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 and America changed forever as a result.

MLB started the 2009 season with 10 managers of color, equaling their historic best of 10 in 2002. The five general managers of color was an all-time high for MLB.

These were among the key factors that helped MLB raise its overall grade for race from 89.5 to 91.5 for its first ever full A grade for racial hiring practices.

While baseball did not fare as well for gender, it did raise that grade from 76 to 81 points for a B. This gave MLB its best ever combined grade of 86 points for a solid B+, also its best grade in the history of the Report Card.

Bud Selig has led the way on these issues in MLB which achieved this through strong records for race in the Commissioner’s office as well as at the levels of manager, coach, general manager and the professional administrators of teams.

MLB continues to have an outstanding record for Diversity Initiatives which include the third annual Civil Rights Game, Jackie Robinson Day and Roberto Clemente Day.

Jackie Robinson’s dream was to see more African-Americans playing, coaching and in the front office. It has been ironic that as the role of people of color dramatically increases regarding who runs the game, African-American players decreased for almost 15 years.

Now this year as racial hiring practices continued to get better, the percent of African-American players also increased to 10.2 percent, up from last year’s all-time low of 8.2 percent in the 2007 season.

That has been a concern of Major League Baseball and leaders in the African-American community. While we need to wait to see if this a one year adjustment or a trend, this is more good news for MLB that its grass roots programs might be taking effect.

Baseball received an A for gender in the league office and an A- for professional administration at the team level.

However, the National Basketball Association (NBA) remains the industry leader on issues related to race and gender hiring practices according to the Racial and Gender Report Card for the National Basketball Association for the 2008-09 season.

The NBA has had the best grade among the men’s leagues for race for two decades. The NBA had an A+ for race, and a B+/A- for gender for a combined A.

Based on the total points used in the weighted scales, the NBA earned its highest grade ever for gender at 89. It slipped slightly from its highest grade ever for race.

The NBA again received men’s pro sports only A for a combined grade for race and gender with a record combined point total of 92. In last year’s report, the NBA had an A+ for race, a B+ for gender and a combined A.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has taken the lead on diversity issues in sport and has done so for decades. He sets the standard in the League Office where 35 percent of the professional positions are held by people of color.

This is the highest percentage in the NBA’s history and the highest in the history of any professional sport. In addition, women held 43 percent of the professional positions in the NBA League Office, higher than any other men’s professional league in any previous Report Card.

The 2009 WNBA Racial and Gender Report Card proved the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) remained as the best employer overall for women and people of color in sport.

In 2008, the WNBA gained ground for people of color as assistant coaches, team vice presidents, team senior administrators, general managers and head coaches. However, people of color lost ground as League Office staff and professional team administration.

The WNBA received a combined grade for race and gender of an A+ by earning both an A+ for gender and an A+ for race for the second consecutive Report Card. Thus, for the second time, the WNBA earned the highest combined grade for any sport in the history of the Racial and Gender Report Card.

In the 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006 Racial and Gender Report Cards, the WNBA had received A’s for their race, gender and combined grades. To this day, no other professional sports league has achieved that even once.

When the Report was updated for 2009, there was a 10 percentage point increase for African-American general managers to 33 percent and a two percentage point increase as head coaches to 38 percent.

Also in the 2009 season update, women gained further ground with a 10 percentage point increase as head coaches 46 percent, a four percentage point increase as general managers to 58 percent and a 10 percentage point increase as CEO/President to 43 percent.

The National Football League achieved an A- grade on racial hiring practices and a C on gender hiring practices in the 2009 NFL Racial and Gender Report Card.

This gave the NFL a combined B. In the history of the NFL Racial and Gender Report Card, those are the best grades ever received in each category for the NFL.

The NFL improved significantly from the previous report from a score for race of 87.1 to 89.2 points out of 100. This was the first grade issued for gender since the 2004 NFL RGRC when it received a D+.

For the third consecutive year, African-Americans played a significant role in the Super Bowl when Pittsburgh’s Coach Mike Tomlin helped lead his team to the Super Bowl championship.

In 2007, two African-American head coaches faced each other in the Super Bowl for the first time and an African-American general manager helped lead his team to a win in the 2008 Super Bowl. The Report shows sustained progress in the key positions of head coach (seven in 2006, six in 2007, 2008 and 2009) and general manager (four in 2006, five in 2007, 2008 and 2009).

We are pleased to announce that the National Football League has resumed full participation in our Report. In the years since the League last participated in the Report Card, significant progress has been made in hiring practices regarding race, especially in the ranks of NFL coaching staff, officials, and front office executives.

The team data had been chronicled in previous reports. At the League Office, a number of significant programs aimed at diversity, inclusion, and talent development have been implemented.

Detailed examples appear in Chapter 9 and include diversity recruiting and a new rotational program for entry-level hires, several new talent management processes and a number of training and development programs. The NFL continues to have strong community outreach initiatives.

A representative sample is included in this report.

The 2009 Major League Soccer Racial and Gender Report Card resulted in continued outstanding results for MLS regarding racial hiring practices and another significant improvement in gender hiring practices.

MLS earned a third consecutive solid A for racial hiring after getting A’s in the categories of MLS League Office, players, head coaches, team president/CEO and team professional administration. This was, again, the second best grade in men’s professional sport following the NBA for racial hiring practices.

For gender hiring practices, the MLS grade increased substantially from a C+ in 2008 to a B (81 points, up from 78) in 2009. MLS received an A+ for gender in the MLS League Office in 2009.

That offset a D+ in team professional positions and a C- in team senior administration. MLS received an A+ for diversity initiatives with some of the best in professional sports. MLS earned a combined grade of B+ with 86.5 points, up from 85.7 points in 2008.

Major League Soccer has maintained an outstanding record on racial hiring practices and has continued to improve in gender hiring. MLS had an additional six percent increase in women holding professional positions in the League Office after a 16 percent increase in 2008.

MLS went from barely a D+ in 2007 for gender to nearly a B- in the 2008 Report Card to a B this year. Commissioner Garber’s headquarters team continues to lead by example. MLS consistently has among the best diversity initiatives in sport.

As for College Sport, the 2008 Racial and Gender Report Card for College Sport showed that NCAA member institutions and their conferences lost ground for both their record for gender hiring practices and hiring practices by race. In fact, college sport had the lowest grade for racial hiring practices in 2008.

Every other year, the NCAA releases a new NCAA Race and Gender Demographics of NCAA Member Conferences Personnel Report and NCAA Race and Gender Demographics of NCAA Member Institutions Athletic Personnel.

In previous years, these reports were used to examine the racial and gender demographics of NCAA head and assistant coaches, athletics directors across all divisions, associate and assistant athletics directors, senior woman administrators, academic advisors, compliance coordinators and managers for business development, fund-raising, facilities, marketing, ticket sales and media relations and an array of assistants and support staff.

This year represented the in-between year in terms of the NCAA releasing racial and gender demographic data via these reports. Lacking these NCAA-issued reports, The Institute For Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) was unable to issue College Sport a new overall grade for 2009.

As was the case two years ago in 2007, this report card featured updates only to the sections regarding racial and gender demographics of officials at the NCAA Headquarters, the university presidents, athletic directors, head football coaches, football coordinators and faculty athletic representatives at the 120 institutions in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), conference commissioners, and NCAA student-athletes.

The data utilized to update these sections was culled from several sources, including the NCAA-issued 2007-2008 NCAA Student-athlete Ethnicity Report, the 2009-2010 Division I Campus Leadership Study published by TIDES in November 2009, self-reported demographic data on NCAA Headquarters personnel for the fiscal year 2008-2009, and information contained in previous studies by TIDES.

The text of the 2008 report card is also included at the end of this report for the categories that did not have the necessary data to receive an update on racial and gender demographics. In all cases regarding employment in college athletics, the data reported throughout the 2009 Racial and Gender Report Card excludes Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s).

The commitment to fostering opportunities for women and people of color at the collegiate level was evidenced the last several years under the leadership of the late NCAA president Myles Brand. Brand hired Charlotte Westerhaus in 2005 to be the NCAA Vice-President for Diversity and Inclusion.

The creation of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the diversity programs it created reflect this dedication. In terms of expanding opportunities in sport for women and people of color, the greatest prospects exist in college sport rather than at the professional sport level because of the sheer number of jobs available.

However, the record shows there is still significant room for improvement.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida publishes the Racial and Gender Report Card to indicate areas of improvement, stagnation and regression in the racial and gender composition of professional and college sports personnel and to contribute to the improvement of integration in front office and college athletics department positions.

Again, I ask, are we playing fair when it comes to sports? Does everyone, regardless of race or gender, have a chance to make and run the team? Clearly, there is room for improvement in all sports, but I remain optimistic.

With continued emphasis on diversity, not only by changing numbers but also by changing attitudes through diversity management training and other diversity initiatives, I believe sports organizations can be as dedicated in their hiring practices as they are on the playing field, committed to playing the best people they have available.

NOTE: For the full report, visit www.tidesport.org .