The impact of the racial reckoning on American society in this post-George Floyd pandemic world has been enormous, especially in professional and college sport. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) recently released a comprehensive review and analysis of the hiring practices of Major League Baseball, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and College Sport
The 2021 Complete Racial and Gender Report Card
The WNBA was the only pro league with an A or better overall grade (A+), and the NBA (B+) was second. MLS and NFL both got Bs, a C+ for MLB, and a C for College Sport.
For racial hiring practices, the WNBA again tops the pros (A+), and MLS and NBA both got As, followed by NFL and MLB (both with B+).
However, for gender hiring, four of the five leagues and College Sport showed decreases. NFL (C+) and MLS (C) only saw increases, but the NBA (B) and WNBA (A+) earned above-average grades in their respective reports. College Sport, MLB and MLS all received Cs.
“The biggest disappointment is the continued decline across all sports” in gender hiring, said TIDES Director Richard Lapchick. “We’re still talking about these huge discrepancies… especially college sports.”
College sport, which TIDES points out “remains one of the very worst diversity statistics in sport,” saw about a 5% drop in racial hiring, the largest decline among all reports. The MLS had the largest increase (4.8%) in gender hiring, and the NFL had the second-largest improvement (3%).
The 2021 report cards were the first time “bonus points” were awarded for hiring milestones and special social justice initiatives, and for the first time racial and gender grades for team CEOs/presidents.
But in the three positions of head coach, general manager and president, “This is where leagues do not do as well,” continued Lapchick. The WNBA (41.7 persons of color) and MLS (42.9 persons of color) both got A+ in this regard, followed by the NBA (30%, A), MLB (20%, B+) and NFL (almost 16%, C+).
Pro football has been under fire of late as the Brian Flores racial hiring lawsuit for racial discrimination last week added two more Black coaches. Earlier this month the NFL announced that all 32 teams must have a female or POC as an offensive assistant for the 2022 season.
“I believe that the Commissioner’s Office is making a sincere effort to try to get it done,” observed Lapchick, “because the Rooney Rule obviously has not by itself produced the results that they want.” But the longtime advocate for diversity and inclusion and TIDES director quickly warns that the majority-White team owners are slow to change.
“We have a group of owners who are making the [hiring] decisions,” he noted. “I probably said that when we talked about the NFL’s 32 owners that supported Donald Trump, which tells me that they’re not necessarily going to be particularly enthusiastic about who’s coaching on their field…who don’t look like themselves.”
College sport is dragging its diversity feet as well: “That’s frustrating for me,” admitted Lapchick. “We’ve been advocating for [more diversity], and the NCAA has consistently said that the individual schools won’t agree to it.”
However, the West Coast Conference in 2020 became the first collegiate league to adopt diversity hiring standards—the Bill Russell Rule, which requires that each member school interview at least one qualified Black or POC candidate for head coach, assistant coach and senior administrative positions, including athletic director.
“We’re talking to other conferences as well,” said Lapchick. TIDES is now working on the 2022 report cards, beginning with MLB, which are expected out sometime this month.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.