The WNBA, NBA and MLS Lead American Sports in Diverse, Fair and Inclusive Hiring

Editor’s Note: Richard Lapchick is a human rights activist, racial equality pioneer, sports expert, scholar and author.

Over the past two years we have witnessed seismic shifts in the world following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and then the racial reckoning that began after the murder of George Floyd. And now the war in Ukraine. The structure of our society has been questioned. This includes the world of sport, which is such an important common denominator for so many people. This was especially true when it came to America’s reaction to the racial calculus.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) released the Complete 2021 Racial and Gender Report Card, which summarizes and analyzes 2021 individual report cards from the NBA, WNBA, MLS, NFL, MLB and college sports. Analyzing current efforts towards diverse and inclusive hiring practices across sports can show us whether meaningful progress has been made and how this might reflect society.

As for race, the full bulletin revealed that the WNBA, NBA and MLS were the only ones to receive at least one A note for racial hiring, with the WNBA leading the way with a A+. The NFL and MLB followed with B+ the notes. College sport was far behind with a VS. The NFL, WNBA and MLS improved their racial hiring ratings.

Hiring scores by gender highlight how far we are from fair and inclusive hiring practices for women in leadership positions. The WNBA and NBA were the only leagues to win a B or higher, with a A+ and B, respectively. Major League Soccer and NFL alone achieved some improvement over 2020 report cards. NFL gained a C+while MLB, MLS and college sports each received a VS.

Between racial and gender-based hiring practices, the largest increase was achieved by MLS after rising 4.8 percentage points to 74.7% in gender-based hiring practices. The second biggest improvement was achieved by the NFL after jumping 3.0 percentage points to 88.5% in racial hiring practices. College sports fell 4.6 percentage points in racial hiring — the biggest drop of any report.

The NFL, MLB, WNBA, NBA and MLS are doing well in their league offices. They all received at least one A for racial hiring practices. However, at the team level, there is room for improvement in the proportion of women and people of color in leadership positions. With a large number of professional athletes being people of color, the players (and student-athletes) do not reflect who leads the teams.

MLB, for example, had 37.6% players of color, while only 13.3% of team general managers/presidents of baseball operations were people of color. Similarly, 70.7% of NFL players were players of color, but only 15.6% of head coaches, 9.4% of presidents/CEOs, and 15.6% of general managers were people of color. at the start of the 2021 season.

MLS had 61.7% players of color compared to 13.8% of presidents/CEOs and 18.8% of general managers were people of color.

University sport remains the most disappointing. In Division I FBS, 48.6% of student-athletes in football were people of color while only 9.0% of head coaches, 18.5% of athletic directors and 16.9% of presidents/chancellors were people of color.

In 2007-08, 86.5% of Division I conference commissioners were white. Fifteen years later, 80.0% were white. We just had a big men’s and women’s March Madness in which we almost saw two black head coaches win the national championship for the first time. (Dawn Staley coached the South Carolina women to a second title; Hubert Davis coached the North Carolina men to a second place.) However, only 26.7% of men’s basketball head coaches were black in the report card 2021. This was less than the 25% of 2006-07.

Again, sex in college sports is among the most daunting categories. Women held 41.3% of Division I women’s team head coaching positions in the 2021 report card. So little improvement from 39.5% in 2010-11.

I believe we are making progress and it is largely led by the militant athletes who have emerged during the racial count. Together with the support league offices, they have helped create such a wide range of social justice initiatives that we have started giving out “bonus points” in each of the 2021 report cards. Although most initiatives are aimed to address systemic racism, I’m sure they will look to their own sports and the hiring practices in those sports.

There has clearly been an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts since George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were killed and the racial reckoning began.

Leagues, teams and athletic departments must continue to emphasize the importance of diversity, inclusion and equity and how sport can contribute to social justice initiatives in society. We can’t forget what we’ve learned from racial reckoning and we need to use that momentum to move forward towards greater fairness in sport.

Rachel Bernardo and Candace Martin have made important contributions to this column.

Richard E. Lapchick directs the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, is the author of 17 books and the annual report on race and gender, and is president of the Institute for sport and social justice. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick ad on Facebook.