With so many Black athletes claiming center stage in the sports
universe, one might be inclined to declare that athletics is the one
slice of American life where equal opportunity abounds. Some might even
say that sports represent a model of ethnic diversity that should be
admired and emulated by all.
Reality, however, paints a much different and much bleaker picture.
True, there’s ample Black representation when you’re talking about
the athletes who compete. But when you look at the percentages of
Blacks employed in the non-jock positions in sports, there’s a drastic
drop-off. You just won’t find many people of color holding down jobs as
coaches and athletic administrators.
In recent years, Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of
Sport in Society has compiled hard data in its Racial Report Card to
demonstrate that these shortcomings in hiring minorities are not
imaginary. Pro sports has performed horribly in this area, considering
79 percent of the players in the National Basketball Association (NBA)
and 66 percent of the National Football League (NFL) are African
For example, according to the recently released 1997 Racial Report
Card (RRP), 15 percent of office management in the NFL is Black, as are
22 percent of officer support staff. In the NBA, the respective numbers
are 17 percent and 31 percent. Additionally, just 24 percent of NBA
coaches and 10 percent of NFL coaches are African American.
Black athletes have taken professional sports to a higher level.
But when it comes to who coaches, who manages, and who gets the
administrative positions, athletics is strictly a White man’s game.
And that’s not the end of it. College sports, long perceived as a
more equitable arena for equal opportunity than their professional
counterparts, also fall short — way short.
In fact, according to the RRP, college sports — where 61 percent
of the basketball players and 52 percent of the football players are
Black — have an even more dismal record for racial and gender hiring
practices when compared to the NFL and the NBA. At Division I
institutions, the ranks of college athletics directors include 9.1
percent Black men and I percent Black women. Black men make up 7.5
percent — and Black women, 1.8 percent — of Division I associate and
assistant athletics directors. Additionally, Black men constitute 6.1
percent — and Black women 1.3 percent — of faculty athletics
As for coaching, at the start of the 1997 season, just eight of 110
Division IA head football coaches were Black (7.2 percent) and fifty of
289 Division I head basketball coaches were Black (17.3 percent).
The data clearly reveal that the number of minorities hired by
college athletics departments and pro sports front offices, doesn’t
come anywhere close to the number of Black athletes who play the games.
Nine years ago, the Center started compiling information for an
annual report card which examines the racial composition of players,
coaches, and front office employees in the NFL, the NBA, and Major
League Baseball (MLB). Where appropriate, gender comparisons are also
provided. The Center publishes RRP in an effort to assist in enhancing
minority hiring in professional sports front offices and college
The 1997 report card is the first time that such data have been
collected to include college sports. The numbers and percentages of
minority coaches and athletic administrators in this report do not
include the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities.
Here’s a sampling of the latest findings:
* There are fewer Division I Black head coaches in football (7.2
percent), basketball (17.3 percent), and baseball (none) than there are
in the NFL (10 percent), the NBA (24 percent), and MLB (11 percent).
* Ditto for Division I Black assistant coaches: 18 percent in
college football, 25 percent in the NFL; 31.2 percent in college
basketball, 34 percent in the NBA; and 1.3 percent in college baseball,
14 percent in MLB.
* The percentage of Black Division I athletics directors and
administrators is significantly smaller than the percentage of Blacks
who are general managers in the NFL and NBA (see chart on page 23).
* NCAA headquarters has a good record for hiring minorities in
top-level and middle management positions — 21 percent of the NCAA’s
top administration group executive directors are Black, as are 21
percent of the association’s professional staff.
* Division III had the worst record of all NCAA divisions in terms
of race and gender hiring practices — only 3.4 percent of college
athletics directors, 3.7 percent of associate and assistant athletics
directors, and 1.8 percent of faculty athletics representatives are
* Over the past five years, the percentage of Blacks playing college sports has declined slightly.
The Center did not issue grades for college sports in the 1997 RRP.
They will be forthcoming in the 1998 report. Even so, the most recent
RRP notes that if grades had been given this time, college sports would
have fared poorly.
The stated goal of the Racial Report Card is to help sports to
realize that they’re no better off than any other industry when it
comes to selecting who gets those decision-making positions. And while
the professional league bosses and NCAA top brass are strong advocates
for diversity, there’s still a lot of room to grow.
The numbers from the 1997 Report Card relay a message that perhaps
some folks don’t want to hear. On the field, sports have as much equal
opportunity as anything America has to offer. Off the field, sports are
But in spite of those shortcomings, the Report Card stresses that
sports are still the one venue where Whites and minorities have the
best chance to set a positive national example for the rest of the U.S.
Division I Assistant Coaches (men’s teams — in percentages)
Basketball Football Baseball
White 68.0 79.8 93.2
Black 31.2 18.0 1.3
Other 0.8 2.2 5.5
COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates
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