Posted on: 5/3/2012
Joseph M. Hanna, S. Philip Unwin
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Each year, proponents of diversity and inclusion in the professional world look to the Racial and Gender Report Cards (RGRC) issued by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport for an indication of where progress is being made — and where work needs to be done — in the high-profile and high-profit domains of pro and college sports.
The Institute issues annual grades for diversity hiring practices for the National Football League, Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association, along with the Women's National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and college sports. It provides an inside look at developing trends in organizations that are often seen as trailblazers in diversity.
The big question asked by the RGRC is: "Are we playing fair when it comes to sports? Does everyone, regardless of race or gender, have a chance to bat or to operate a team?" The Institute's methodology is to conduct an analysis of racial breakdowns of players and coaches in the previous year's playing seasons. This also includes a racial and gender breakdown in management in the various league offices, team-level top management, senior administration, professional administration, physicians, head trainers, broadcasters and league referees.
Raising awareness about these issues among the high-visibility professional sports league will, one hopes, also have the benefit of reducing discrimination claims.
An analysis of the stats and trends evident in the 2011 grades for the NFL, MLB, and NBA, along with an examination of each league's proactive, diversity-focused initiatives, shows that while progress is being made — especially in the NBA — we are a long way from answering the RGRC's question with a resounding "yes."
The 2010 RGRC gave the NFL its first-ever "A" for racial hiring practices. (See http://www.tidesport.org/racialgenderreportcard.html.) Overall, the 2011 NFL RGRC was nearly identical to its performance in 2010. The NFL managed its second consecutive "A" on racial hiring practice and its second consecutive "C" on gender hiring practices for a combined "B" grade. The NFL score for race decreased from 90.5 to 90.4, and the score for gender increased from 69.5 to 69.6. (http://www.tidesport.org/RGRC/2010/2010%20NFL%20Racial%20and%20Gender%20Report%20Card.pdf.)
The NFL player base was 67% African-American, and the percentage of Caucasian players was 31%. These are fairly steady from 2009. The NFL has, by far, the smallest percentage of international players, at 1%.
The NFL deserved credit for moving ahead with diversity initiatives despite turmoil regarding labor issues that led to a lockout for a significant part of the 2011 off-season. The NFL created a women's network, diversity accountabilities and diversity training. The number of diverse employees at or above the vice-president level at the league office increased from 20 in 2010 to 26 in 2011, a 30% increase. The number of female employees at that level increased from 11 to 15 in that time, a 36% increase.
The number of ethnically diverse employees increased from 9 to 13, for a 44% increase. The percentage of management positions for people of color in the league office increased to 25.2% from 24.7%. (Ibid.) The percentage of women in management positions slightly increased from 27.5 to 27.6%. The Institute took the dramatic increase for women at the VP level as an important sign that more women will be hired into professional positions at the league level in the immediate future.
At the team level, the NFL had seven African-American head coaches at the start of the 2011 season, up one from 2010. Additionally, there was one Latino head coach. For this increase, the Institute credited the NFL's own Rooney Rule, which requires that people of color be interviewed as part of the search process for head coaches. It noted that the Rooney Rule helped to triple the number of African-American head coaches in the NFL from two in 2001 to six in 2005. There have been at least six African-American head coaches each year since 2007. (Id. at 7-8.)
It is particularly noteworthy that there has historically been virtually no college pipeline for African-American head coaches. No former NFL head coach of African-American descent has ever been hired as a major college head coach. Although there was a slight increase in head coaches of color, assistant coaches of color decreased from 36% in 2009 to 32% in 2010. Nine African-Americans held coordinator positions and one Latino did as well. Seven African-Americans held Assistant Head Coach positions.
With regard to team management, there is only female president/CEO in the NFL, and there has never been a president/CEO of color. There has never been a primary owner of color in NFL history, but Serena and Venus Williams purchased small minority ownerships of the Miami Dolphins, as did Gloria and Emelio Estefan and Marc Anthony. The NFL has two primary female owners: Denise Debartolo-York of the San Francisco 49ers and Virginia McCaskey of the Chicago Bears.
Caucasians hold 84% of the general manager positions in the NFL, while African-Americans held 16%. That remains the same from 2010. There was a slight increase in the percentage of vice-presidents of color, and the percentage of female vice-presidents increased from 15% to 16%.
People of color held 16% of all NFL senior administrative administration positions, down from 17% previously. (Ibid.)
The Institute defines senior administration as including, but not being limited to, the following titles: directors, assistant general managers, chief general counsel, salary cap manager, public relations director and director of community relations. Women occupied 21% of these positions, a 4% increase from the previous year. People of color occupied 14% of professional administration positions, and women occupied 29%. However, it was the third consecutive year that women were below 30%.
MLB received an overall "A" for race and "B-" for gender. This gave MLB an overall "B+". The grade for race slipped from 92.5 to 91.6, and the grade for gender dropped from 82 to 79.3. MLB's overall score for 2011 was 85.5, down from its 2010 score of 87.3, its best ever. (Id. at 3.)
Major League Baseball saw a decrease in its grade for racial diversity, as there was a drop in people of color among players, league office officials, managers, coaches, general managers and team vice-presidents. Managers of color fell 11 percentage points, and general managers fell 5 percentage points.
The decrease in the grade for gender diversity was due to a drop in women in the league office, team vice-presidents and team professional positions. However, Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute, stated "the Commission and his team in the league office, led by Wendy Lewis, Senior Vice-President for Diversity, have had a remarkably positive imprint on the diversity record for Major League Baseball. MLB continues to have an outstanding record for diversity initiatives which include the 5th Annual Civil Rights Game, Jackie Robinson Day and Roberto Clemente Day." (http://www.tidesport.org/RGRC/2011/2011_MLB_RGRC_FINAL.pdf.)
At the start of 2011, players of color amounted to 38.3% of the league. Opening-day rosters were 61.5% white, 27% Latino, 2.1% Asian, 0.4% Native American or Native Alaskan, and 0.3% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The percentage of African-American players decreased to 8.5% from 10%. This was the lowest since 2007 and the third lowest in decades. The percentage of Latino players decreased from 28.4% to 27%; one of the lowest percentages since 1999.
The 2008 season was the first since 1995 in which there was an increase in African-American players in MLB over the previous season. But after reaching the 10.2% level in 2008, African-American players have steadily regressed as an overall share of all players. This decline in African-American participation is a major source of concern in MLB. (Ibid.) The percentage of international players on MLB opening-day rosters was 27.7%. This was down from 30.1%. However, minor league players were 47.4% international.
In MLB's central office, 10% of the front-office employees are African-American, 17% Latino, 4% Asian and 2% "other." Women make up 38% of the total work force, while people of color make up 33%. At the senior executive level, 20% of the 55 employees were people of color, while women occupied 22% of the positions. At the director and managerial level, 22.5% of the 98 employees were people of color, and women occupied 32% of the posts.
At the team management level, Arturo Moreno continues to be the only Latino majority owner in baseball and the only person of color to own a major league baseball team. Jessica Steinbrenner-Swindal, Jessica Steinbrenner and Joan Steinbrenner each hold vice-chairman positions with the New York Yankees and are the only women to hold any ownership interest.
MLB began the 2011 season with six managers of color, a decrease from nine the year before. There had been a steady increase from 2007 to 2009 until a small decrease in the 2010 season. This comprised 20% of MLB managers. People of color comprise 37% of the managerial positions within the major and minor leagues, however. Among coaches, 29% of the positions are occupied by people of color. African-Americans hold 12% of those positions, Latinos 17% and Asians 0.4%. Among major and minor leagues combined, 42% of the coaching positions are occupied by people of color.
Only one CEO is a female (Pam Gardner of the Houston Astros), and none are people of color. (Id. at 10.)
There are three African-American general managers and one Latino general manager. MLB was, thus, five points below the historical best of 19% of general managers being people of color, established in 2010. Team vice-presidents declined sharply to 9.8%, down 6.7% from the previous season. Eleven vice-presidents were African-American, 11 Latino and 5 Asian. Similarly, the percentage of women vice-presidents fell from 18.6% to 18.2%, with 50 women acting in senior vice-president and vice-president positions.
Among senior administrators, 16% were people of color, the same as the previous year. (http://www.tidesport.org/RGRC/2011/2011_NBA_RGRC_FINAL%20FINAL.pdf.) Five percent were African-American, 8% Latino, 2% Asian, and people categorized as "other" remain 1%. The percentage of women who were senior team administrators was 18%, a one-point decline.
The NBA, once again, led the way among the major sports leagues with an "A+" for race, an "A-" for gender and a combined "A". The NBA's total grade was a 92.2, its highest grade ever and up from its 91.5 in 2010. The grade for race was 95.3, up significantly from a 93.8 in 2010. The combined total, and the total for race were the highest ever in the history of the RGRC for the major sports.
Once again, the NBA has been the diversity leader among the major sports. 83% of NBA players are people of color, an increase of 1% from the previous year. African-Americans comprise 78% of NBA players, 1% increase from the year before and the highest since 2000-2001. The percentage of Asians remains constant at 1%, and the percentage of Latinos increased from 3% to 4%. International players comprised 17% of the NBA, 1% down from the year before and the lowest since 2003-2004. Seventeen percent of the NBA players were Caucasian, the lowest percentage since the RGRC began reporting the composition of NBA teams. (Id. at 3.)
In the league office, 36% of the professional staff positions were held by people of color. Of all professional employees, 64% were Caucasian, 20% African-American, 8% Latino, 8% Asian and less than 1% American Indian/Alaskan Native. This was nearly unchanged from the previous season. Women made up 42% of professional employees, a decrease of 2%. There are 28 people of color in NBA vice-president positions and 33 are women. (Id. at 5.)
Among NBA owners, there is only one owner of color, Michael Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. At the time of the report, there were four women who had ownership of NBA franchises: Coleen Maloof and Adrienne Maloof-Nassif of the Sacramento Kings; Karen Davidson, wife of the late William Davidson of the Detroit Pistons; and Gail Miller, wife of the late Larry Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz. (Id. at 8.) Since the date of the report, Davidson sold the Pistons to Tom Gores.
Nine African-Americans and one Asian held head coaching jobs at the start of the 2010-2011 NBA season, 33% of the league and an increase from the 30% of the year before. Forty-five percent of assistant coaches are men of color, the largest since the RGRC began tracking that element. The percentage of African-Americans in assistant coaching positions increased one point to 42%, and the percentage occupied by Caucasians decreased from 59% to 56%. The percentage of Latinos was 1%, as was the percentage of Asian assistants.
As of the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, there were six African-Americans holding top management positions on an NBA team, two more than the previous year. TerdemaUssery was the only female.
The percentage of people of color who are principals in charge of day-to-day operations/general managers in the NBA doubled between 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 to 26% — the best of any sport. There are seven African-Americans and one Asian GM. There has never been a Latino general manager, and Rich Cho of the Portland Trailblazers was the first Asian general manager in the history of the NBA. However, Cho and the Blazers parted ways in May 2011. (Id. at 10.)
Ten percent of team vice-president positions were held by African-Americans, a decrease of one point. Three percent were held by Latinos, an increase of one point as well. Caucasians remain in 86% of team vice-president positions. Women occupy 15% of the posts, down from 18% the year before.
The Institute defines senior administrators in the NBA as including the following titles, but not being limited to: director, assistant general manager, chief legal counsel, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, public relations director and director of community relations. Among senior administrators, 22% of those positions are occupied by people of color, up one percent from the year before. Seventy-eight percent are Caucasian, 14% African-American, 6% Latino, 1% Asian, and slightly 1% "other" of those positions are Caucasian.
The percentage of women in senior administrative positions increased two percentage points to 27%, an all-time high in terms of numbers, with 155 women holding those positions.
The NFL's most prominent diversity initiative is the aforementioned Rooney Rule. This was adopted in 2003 and mandates that teams must interview at least one minority candidate when hiring for a head coaching position. It was expanded in 2009 to include all senior football operations positions. From 2002, the last year before the implementation of the Rooney Rule, to today, the number of African-American head coaches and personnel in management positions has increased significantly.
The fact that African-American head coaches have proven very successful in recent years has surely helped as well. Four of the last five Super Bowls have featured an African-American head coach, with Super Bowl XLI featuring Indianapolis' Tony Dungy and Chicago's Lovie Smith. Additionally, five of the league's 32 general managers are African-American, including Jerry Reese, General Manager of the New York Giants, the champions of Super Bowl XLII. In all, seven of the last 10 Super Bowl teams have had an African-American head coach or general manager.
The NFL also in 2003 introduced a formal mentoring program designed to support employee retention, career development and advancement initiatives. This is a program in which experienced executives share their business insights and experiences with newer professionals.
The NFL also has instituted other programs designed to enhance employee learning and development, including NFL Special Teams, created by the diversity counsel to provide a unique opportunity for NFL employees to build their skills and advance their careers.
In addition, the NFL instituted the Junior Careers and the Junior Rotational Program, designed to build a strong entry-level pipeline to attract top undergraduates into the NFL by allowing them to rotate through several business areas in a condensed period of time. The NFL has an internship program for college seniors and also a talent review, where the league executives identify and review top-performing employees at the director level and above who have the potential for creating responsibilities, as well as an executive training program. The NFL recently launched the league's first Women's Affinity Group, whose mission is to help accelerate the career advancement of women in the NFL while deepening the engagement of all employees of the league. (NFL RGRC p. 37-40.)
MLB has sought commitment to diversity by not only including employment, but also supplier diversity, player development, community relations, education and philanthropic awards. MLB has aggressively addressed workplace diversity primarily through human resource practices in both the Commissioner's office and the individual teams. It has hired professional HR practitioners who contribute to MLB's benchmark reports that profile all levels of employment within the baseball organizations and uses information for strategic planning and performance management. (Id. at 35-37.)
MLB has recently instituted the Diversity Economic Impact Engagement Initiative to advance the level of MLB's current work force and supplier diversity efforts and create methodologies for cultural assessments, diversity economic platforms and industry-wide diversity training. This will be developed through Major League Baseball's central office and member teams and eventually though the minor leagues as well. MLB's Diversity Business Partners Program, the leading supplier diversity program in sports, has produced significant economic opportunity for the Commissioner's Office, franchises and local communities and has resulted in well over $800 million being spent with thousands of minority- and women-owned businesses.
MLB also has numerous urban youth initiatives that seek to make the game more meaningful to communities of color, provide safe and organized recreational activities for urban youth, and prepare high school players of color for college and professional baseball and softball programs. One such example is Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy on the campus of Compton Community College in Los Angeles. The Urban Youth Academy has also opened a facility in Houston. Finally, MLB has a longstanding urban youth initiative called Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI). This is a youth outreach program for youth aged five to 18 to promote interest in baseball and softball as well as encourage academic achievement. In 2010, the program had 51,000 participants.
The NBA has a variety of diversity initiatives impacting a number of areas including employee training and development, employee recruitment, vendor diversity and community relations. The NBA conducts live and online training focused on diversity and respect in the workplace. This is completed by all league employees every two years, with a separate track for managers.
Since 2006, the NBA has provided all league and team employees with access to GlobeSmart, a web-based tool that provides information on the countries and cultures from around the world. In 2008, there was an effort for NBA teams to maintain and adhere to comprehensive policies and procedures in the areas of anti-discrimination and anti-harassment, and the league issued Respect in the Workplace Baseline Best Practices to all teams.
The NBA has continued to embrace a multi-faceted approach in maintaining a globally diverse workforce. Year after year, it has attained a high level of success in establishing a workforce balanced in terms of gender and broad in terms of ethnicity. The NBA seeks a globally diverse applicant pool in its hiring process and encourages teams to do the same. The NBA also has an associate and intern program as a feeder pool for applicants, and it actively seeks diversity in this group. (NBA RGRC, p. 34-35.)
Like the NFL and MLB, the NBA is trying to maximize vendor diversity and is trying to maximize contracting opportunities for women and minority business enterprises to participate in NBA business opportunities.
While acknowledging true diversity is the common goal, each league faces a unique set of challenges to getting there.
For the NFL, the biggest challenge from a diversity standpoint is increasing the number of women in the league workforce. The RGRC assigned the NFL a "C" for gender hiring practices. However, the NFL did receive an "A+" for gender diversity initiatives, and the recent launch of the Womens' Interactive Network is a step in the right direction. However, the NFL still received numerous poor grades in various gender diversity categories, most notably an "F" in the grade for team vice president.
The biggest diversity challenge that MLB faces is in the steady decline in African-American players. MLB is actively working to address this through the RBI program and the Urban Youth Academies. MLB received an "A" for its diversity initiatives — but the decline in African-American player participation is not merely worrying from a short-term perspective, but very troubling from a long-term perspective.
Since managerial and coaching positions are almost exclusively filled by former players, a decline in the number of African-American players is highly likely to cause a decline in the number of managers and coaches in the future. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any one particularly satisfactory explanation for the decline of African-American participation in baseball. (A thorough article on potential causes can be found at http://www.sabernomics.com/sabernomics/index.php/2008/04/what-caused-the-decline-of-african-americans-in-baseball/.)
The NBA remains the diversity leader among the major sports and by a fairly wide margin. Like the NFL, the NBA has some work to do in terms of increasing gender diversity in executive positions. The Institute notes this specifically as an area where NBA teams can improve and the NBA did receive an "F" for gender diversity for team vice presidents. In the long term, the NBA's diverse associate and intern programs should yield results in this area.
However, not all is perfect for the NBA in terms of diversity. In December 2011, the league was sued by former security director Warren Glover. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/16/us-nba-lawsuit-discrimination-idUSTRE7BF01Y20111216.) Glover claims that he was fired for raising concerns about sexual harassment in the NBA workplace. The lawsuit accuses the NBA of "discriminating against women with respect to terms and conditions of employment" and says it "tolerates a culture of complicity and retaliation against those who complain about such disparate treatment." The NBA claims that the suit is without merit.
All in all, the leagues are showing improvement. The proactive initiatives outlined above have contributed greatly to the positive aspects of this year's Racial and Gender Report Cards — and more like them will be necessary to keep the diversity and inclusion stats in these pro leagues on an upward trajectory.
Joseph Hanna is a partner of Goldberg Segalla LLP in Buffalo, New York, and concentrates his practice in commercial litigation with a focus on sports and entertainment law, construction litigation and intellectual property law. He is the Chair of Goldberg Segalla's diversity task force and the President of the Minority Bar Association of Western New York, Inc.
Philip Unwin is Special Counsel with Goldberg Segalla LLP in Rochester, New York, and has been defending workers' compensation claims and Section 120 discrimination claims since 2005.