Diversity in the front offices of professional sports franchises is a long way from being perfect, but it has improved dramatically over the last decade. The next frontier to tackle is the ownership suite, which will be toughest.
Let’s start with the positives.
We’ve Seen Diversity Improvements In Sports Leadership
The NBA, according to Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity & Ethics in Sport (TIDES), is 82.4 percent Black. Of the 30 franchises, 14 have either a Black general manager and/or president/vice president of basketball operations. That’s 46 percent.
Certainly, room to grow, but better than the other major North American sports leagues.
“We’ve made more progress in other areas. And in terms of CEOs on the business side of teams, we would absolutely love to see more progress there,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said at the 2022 NBA All-Star Game. “One of the things that I have learned that not only do you have to talk about it all the time, but the actual numbers, you have to speak very specifically about it and share that data, talk about it collectively and set targets and move forward there. I think that, no doubt, that’s an area we can do a better job.”
According to TIDES, in 2021, about 71 percent of the players in the NFL were people of color. Of the 32 teams, eight have Black general managers. That’s 25 percent. A lot of work needs to be done to boost those numbers. The league has implemented the coach and front office accelerator program in the past year to help introduce teams to a more diverse pool for head coach and front office positions.
“We’re gonna continue [the accelerator program],” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at the Super Bowl earlier this month. “Our commitment’s strong to that. But that’s just one. We had a number of other programs that we’ve put in that I think are going to produce long-term results. Now we all want short-term results, but it’s important to have it be sustainable for the future, and we believe diversity makes us stronger. It’s about attracting the best talent and giving them the best opportunity to be successful. To me, that’s at the core of what we do. We want the changes to be really fundamental and sound and sustainable.”
The numbers in the NHL and MLB are awful. There is one Black general manager in each league. But given the racial makeup of these leagues, it’s not surprising. Though both leagues recognize a more diverse sport at all levels is key for their future success.
We Need Diversity Among The People Who Write The Checks
At present there is one Black majority owner in professional sports, Michael Jordan of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Jordan has four Black people in the executive ranks of the organization, including Fred Whitfield, team president.
More Black owners might help solve this problem if the small sample size of Jordan’s executive suite can be extrapolated.
Of course the problem is you need to be a billionaire, and generally a multi-billionaire, to afford a pro sports franchise. There just aren’t that many Black billionaires.
On the Forbes real-time billionaires list, you have to get all the way down to 418 before you encounter the first Black billionaire. David Steward, chairman and founder of World Wide Technology, one of the largest African-American-owned businesses in America. He has a net worth of $6 billion and is a minority owner in the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. He has made a bid for an NFL franchise in the past but lost.
We don’t see the next Black billionaire until we get to the 1,090th ranked Patrice Motsepe ($2.8B). The South African businessman already owns an association football (soccer) team in his home country and is president of the Confederation of African Football. It is highly unlikely he would have any interest in North American sports ownership.
There aren’t enough Black individuals with the kind of wealth necessary to own sports franchises. Of course a group of Black billionaires or even high-end multi millionaires can form a group. But leagues tend to not like groups with multiple people as they want clear representation and a single voice from each of its franchises.
One day there will be another majority Black owner. Sadly, it won’t be enough to truly change the makeup of our professional sports systems.