Richard Lapchick

(WOMENSENEWS)–For the past two years, the hiring of women in sports organizations has dropped, according to a report card on the gender and racial hiring practices in sports. It is the first setback of this kind since the report began monitoring gender hiring practices 11 years ago.

According to the 2003 Racial and Gender Report Card, released at the end of April by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, Orlando, Fla., "every professional sport coveredby the report saw its average (grade) for gender representation decline."

"There had been a steady increase in women getting decision-making positions since gender was added to the study about 11 years ago," said the author of the report, Richard E. Lapchick, in a telephone interview. Noting that the 2001 report had the best hiring records ever for both race and gender, Lapchick said this report was the first time "we saw not only a halt, but a reversal" in the gender statistics.

This is the 12th issue of the report, widely viewed as the definitive assessment of hiring practices of women and people of color in professional and amateur sports. League commissioners and college administrators are known to react to the report and to seek change based on it. Lapchick, who has tracked professional and college sports hiring for 14 years, is director of DeVos Sport Business Management Program and the The Institute for Diversity and Ethics, both at the University of Central Florida, Orlando.

The report covers the 2001-2002 seasons in the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League; 2001 in the National Football League; 2002 in Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the Women’s National Basketball Association, and the 2000-2001 academic year for colleges. It looks at the composition of players, coaches and front office athletic department employees in the professional leagues and collegiate sports departments.

The study assigns "grades" based on employment by race and gender, and then multiplies those grades by a weight assigned to each category based on that category’s relative importance regarding opportunities for women and people of color. Ultimately, an organization’s weighted scores are added and a final score is reached. It is this final score that took an overall decline in this year’s study, for both race and gender.

Donna Lopiano, executive director of the New York-based Women’s Sports Foundation, said the decline cited in Lapchik’s report might be linked to the economy. "During economic declines, history demonstrates that there is a significant backsliding that clouds the progress on gender and racial equality," she said.

Possible Link to Federal Stance on Title IX

Lapchick says he believes that some of the cause lies beyond economic factors. "My fear is that the decline is part of an erosion of Title IX on the federal level," he said, referring to the landmark 1973 law that required women be provided more opportunities at all levels of public schools and college sports. "There’s a feeling that we’ve come so far and it’s okay to let up."

Lapchick noted that the Bush administration, through a task force formed by the Secretary of Education, has reviewed making possible revisions to the current standards applied to Title IX. The review was an apparent response to consistent complaints that some men’s sports–such as wrestling–have been trimmed on the college level because of the law. No action has been taken to date.

Calling Title IX "the single most powerful tool to create opportunities for women in sports," Lapchick pointed out that more than 30 years after the advent of Title IX, only 45 percent of head coaches in women’s collegiate sports are women. Such a situation, he said, would be unimaginable if the gender tables were turned.

The Women’s Sports Foundation’s Lopiano agreed, saying that men have 1.1 million more opportunities to play sports in high school and, in college, men have 58,000 more opportunities and $133 million more in scholarships.

"The progress of women in general and women of color with regard to the goal of equal opportunity in sport is simply not rapid enough," she added. "The public has cause to be concerned that this administration is committed to further slowing progress."

Some Leagues Improve Grades for Race

While the Lapchick Report Card documented overall declines for women and people of color, there was some good news. In fact, college sports had some improvement in both race and gender.

As it has in all previous reports, the NBA had the best record; a combined grade of B+ for racial and gender hiring practices among all the men’s professional leagues. With an A, the WNBA had the best record for gender and, with another A, the best combined record for race and gender.

Lopiano praised both NBA Commissioner David Stern and WNBA President Valerie Ackerman for their commitment to diversity.

Lapchick added, "There’s no question that Val Ackerman made a commitment to make hires representative of society and of people playing the game."

The greatest loss for women and people of color was in the area of professional administration, those people who help run the front offices in such departments as marketing and public relations. The study, which did not specifically quantify the loss, said it was "particularly important because the majority of jobs are professional administration positions."

Lapchick’s study "grades" a sport by comparing its percentage of women and minorities against society in general. For example, a sport would earn an A if it mirrored the gender and racial composition of the general population, with 45 percent of its employees female and 24 percent of its employees people of color.

The NFL received the lowest combined grade, a C-, behind other professional and college sports. That included a D- in gender. The NFL did not return calls for comment.

Failing Grade for Major League Soccer

Another low point was Major League Soccer, which, because of its dearth of female employees received an overall F for gender, the lowest such grade the report has ever given. For race, however, it had a solid B+.

Trey Fitz-Gerald, senior director of communications for Major League Soccer, said, "When we heard the results, we were shocked. We were the first league to institute diversity training in 1998, and we do not think of ourselves as discriminating. But we recognize that change does need to happen.

"We got on the phone with Dr. Lapchick and discussed different avenues and mechanisms we can use to make sure we do not fail again. We have also discussed this with the teams."

Fitz-Gerald said the New York-based league’s statistics were affected by the cuts and changes in early 2001 when two teams were eliminated, the league office cut more than 15 percent of its staff. Also, the Women’s United Soccer Association was launched and lured several people from both Major League Soccer and team offices.

Fitz-Gerald also said his league is helping the Women’s United Soccer Association in efforts to bring the Women’s World Cup tournament to the United States this fall, after international soccer authorities decided to move it from China because of the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS virus. Hosting the tournament would give a real boost to the women’s league in these shaky economic times.

As for boosts, Lapchick noted one for race relations this year when the NBA awarded Black Entertainment Television Founder and CEO Robert Johnson the right to purchase the NBA’s new Charlotte franchise, making him the first African American to own a majority interest in a professional sports team.

Sue Reisinger is a freelance journalist and lawyer living in East Hampton, New York.

For more information:

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport
DeVos Sport Business Management Program, University of Central Florida
"2003 Racial and Gender Report Card-Full Report":

The Women’s Sports Foundation: