Richard Lapchick

(WOMENSENEWS)–The nation’s sport fans, watching their favorite teams and events, could easily come to the conclusion that the sports industry is one place that racial and gender bias has no place.

Wrong. The playing field is far from level when it comes to sports industry front offices; such decision-making positions are held overwhelmingly by white men, according to a new report by Northeastern University.

The 2001 Racial and Gender Report Card, published by the university’s Center for Sport in Society, analyzed the composition of players and administrators in professional leagues, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and, most recently, the U.S. Olympic Committee. The report card found the Women’s National Basketball Association to have the best record by far for both women–85 percent–and people of color–45 percent–in its league offices.

Women’s National Basketball Association became the first league to get A’s in both categories of race and gender and knocked the National Basketball Association out of the top spot for the first time in 11 years.

“Sport in Society’s goal in publishing the report card is to help professional, college and Olympic sport recognize that sport, which is America’s most integrated workplace for players, is not much better than society in who it hires in decision-making positions,” said Richard E. Lapchick, the author of the report.

WNBA Scored A in Race, Gender Equity

The spokesperson for the WNBA said her organization’s hiring record reflects the reality that it is both expected and natural for a women’s league to boast more job opportunities for women. Traci Cook, senior director of corporate communications for the Women’s National Basketball Association, added that since many WNBA executives come from women’s basketball, which has diverse teams, it makes sense that their front offices are racially diverse.

The league’s diversity also is a “function of us being conscious about it,” Cook said, as well as the league’s management “being true to who we are–a women’s pro basketball league.”

Richard E. Lapchick, author of the study and founder of Sport in Society, agrees that diversity is no accident in women’s professional basketball. “WNBA President Val Ackerman has made a commitment to provide real opportunities for women and people of color in the front offices,” said Lapchick in an interview.

According to the Racial and Gender Report Card, the same commitment is absent from many of the other leagues surveyed.

The report card gave the National Football League, for example, the worst combined score of all leagues when it came to race and gender.

In response, Greg Aiello, NFL vice president of public relations, pointed to Barbara A. Kaczynski, the league’s new chief financial officer, and cited as positive change the increase from 14 African American coaches in 1980 to 140 today.

“Two-thirds of our players are African American, and those are the highest paid positions,” said Aiello.

Racial Diversity Among Players Is Not the Problem

The racial diversity of the players, according to Lapchick, is not the problem. “There are leagues where who’s running the league doesn’t look like who’s playing in the league,” he said.

Co-author and report card research director Kevin J. Matthews, referred to the sports industry as an old boys network.

“It’s not a huge industry, it’s made up of a lot of people who know each other. So, if you have management that are predominantly white male,” Matthews said, they are most likely “going to hire other white males they know.”

Lapchick said he hopes that publication of the report card will provide “a desire and momentum for equity within these organizations, as well as an external pressure from the public.”

“Perhaps the fact the WNBA came out with such a convincing record will show the other leagues, the NCAA, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the National Governing Bodies that racial and gender equity are, indeed, reachable goals,” the report said.

Since the report card was first published in 1987–with findings resoundingly white and male–the sports industry has begun to openly respond to the call for greater diversity.

Matthews cited Major League Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig, who in 1999 began playing a bigger role in the hiring of candidates for general manager, field manager and positions in baseball operations, due in part to past report card findings.

According to commission spokesman Pat Courtney, Selig wanted to make sure that a qualified pool of candidates–including women and minority men–were considered for these positions.

This year’s report card has shown improvement in the number of minority coaches and managers in the men’s leagues.

Pro Leagues Are Scoring Gains in Diversifying Coaches, Manager

There are now a total of 20 head coaches or managers of color in the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and Major League Baseball–which is close to a 45 percent leap from their previous best.

However, the report card gives college athletics the lowest marks for providing the fewest opportunities for women and minority men in coaching and management.

In the division that included the largest universities and college athletics departments, only 2.4 percent of department directors are African American, while only 9 percent are women. This area is especially important, Lapchick explained, because, “faculty athletics representatives and athletics directors are two positions that the president has a direct role in choosing. If our college presidents are not considering race and gender, we have a problem.”

Lapchick does acknowledge that even those sports in which grades are low generally have better records on race and gender than society as a whole.

He added that he hoped that society views the sports industry as a leader in fair hiring practices and that others will decide to follow suit.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Only the Women’s National Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association were found to be nearing equity when it came to opportunities for persons of color in their front offices. They received the industry’s only A’s in the category of race.
  • Only the Women’s National Basketball Association earned an A for gender.
  • The National Football League, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer received D’s in the gender equity category.
  • A total of two African Americans and two women serve as chief executive officers in the five men’s professional leagues.
  • The proportion of women in decision-making positions decreased in the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer but increased in the Women’s National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
  • The proportion of African American players in Major League Baseball is at a 30-year low and has declined in Major League Soccer, the Women’s National Basketball Association and college sports.

Lauren M. Craig is a free-lance writer in Morristown, N.J. She is a graduate of Spelman College and previously wrote a column critiquing film and television for

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