Will calls for change improve diversity in sport front offices?

First of a multi-part series

Submitted photo Dr. Courtney Cox

We have seen slow progress for decades on diversity and inclusion in pro and college sport front office and college athletics department positions. The sporting public tends to focus only on the more known positions—coach, assistant coach, general manager, team presidents and college athletics directors—as showing the primary need for diversity and inclusion. But important decision-making positions that may be less visible should be diverse as well.

This has been a guiding purpose since 2006 for The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) for grading pro leagues and the NCAA on racial and gender hiring. “Every year, the TIDES team asks participating organizations in the Racial and Gender Report Card process:  ‘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?” says the group report’s executive summary in their latest report, released June 24.

Rather than separate league-specific reports as in past years, TIDES last week released a combined 2020 Racial and Gender Report Card for five pro leagues: WNBA, NBA, MLB, MLS, NFL and college sport.

“We faced both a pandemic with COVID-19 and an extraordinary focus on racism sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in the first few months of 2020,” states the executive summary. “The world of sport has been affected by both, and the importance of measuring where we are in terms of race in sport became even more critical.”

Richard Lapchick
Charles Hallman/MSR News Richard Lapchick

Nonetheless, this year’s combined report stresses again that diversity and inclusion in sport both on the field and off it is far from ideal. “It is paramount that professional leagues and college sport increase diverse and inclusive hiring practices when hiring league employees, front office and team professionals, and university administrators alike,” the report reads. “It is the responsibility of leagues, teams, colleges and universities to have strong diversity initiatives and programs put in place to help foster and encourage this growth.”

For nearly three decades, we have been the only Twin Cities medium that not only regularly and prominently features the annual TIDES report card results, but also daring to ask local team and league officials about their diversity efforts, in particular their hiring of Blacks. Mostly it’s been the same old response: “We can do better.”

“It seems hollow to us when we are hearing, ‘We’ll do better,’” noted University of Oregon Associate Professor Dr. Courtney Cox.  She teaches on race and sport, the cultural, political and economic efforts of global sport. “What it does for me is reinforce” that diversity isn’t a top priority, she added.

Diversity disparities aren’t unique to sport, Cox continued. “All industries are doing the same thing. We can look at the disparity and be real discouraged.” 

This year’s TIDES report showed both increases and decreases. Our series in future installments will take a deeper dive into the racial breakdown numbers and percentages of Blacks by the specific leagues and the local teams that represent them.

“It is disheartening to see that most leagues saw decreases in overall grades for diverse hiring practices,” TIDES Director Richard Lapchick said. “I hope that recent events make diversity a bigger focus for these leagues and organizations.”

Next: MLS and MLB and the local teams that represent these leagues.