WNBA, NBA set standard for diverse, equitable, inclusive hiring

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

The impact of the racial reckoning on American society in 2020 has been enormous — and is still prevalent today. College and professional sports leagues are moving in the right direction in becoming more diverse, equitable and inclusive. All leagues have reached notable hiring milestones while implementing innovative social justice initiatives. This is reflected in the 2022 Complete Racial and Gender Report Card released Thursday by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), which is part of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida.

The report card is a comprehensive review and analysis of the hiring practices of MLB, the NBA, the WNBA, the NFL, MLS and college sports.

For racial hiring practices, the WNBA and NBA received an A+; MLS received an A; the NFL received a B+; MLB received a B and college sports received a C. The MLB and NBA scores increased by 3.8 percentage points and 2.2 percentage points, respectively. Conversely, the WNBA, NFL, MLS and college sports decreased 5.7 percentage points, 3.5 percentage points and 0.9 percentage points and 1.1 percentage points, respectively.

While gender hiring practices were not as good as racial hiring practices, they were significantly better than the 2021 report card. The WNBA, NBA, MLS and NFL received grades of A, B+, B and B, respectively. MLB received a C+, and college sports received the lowest grade — a C.

Both the WNBA and NBA received an A in the overall grade in the 2022 report card. MLS followed with a B+. The NFL received a B, and MLB followed with a B-. College sports again ranked the lowest, with a C. While there were no huge shifts in the overall grades, four of the six reports showed an increase of between 0.3 percentage points and 3.5 percentage points. The only decrease was in the college sports grade, with a decrease of 2.1 percentage points.

Danette Leighton, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said the report and the foundation’s own research continue to expose disparities in racial and gender hiring practices in sports.

“Though progress has been made, the TIDES complete report card reveals we must collectively work together to continue to push the needle forward in order to reach true equity in coaching, the front office, the boardroom and beyond,” Leighton said. “It is my hope that this report series encourages all teams, leagues and institutions to take a hard look at their hiring practices to ensure those in leadership positions, on and off the field, reflect the vast diversity of this country and those playing the game.”

For racial hiring practices, the largest increase was seen in MLB — increasing 3.8 percentage points to 86.8% in racial hiring practices. The NFL and MLS had significant improvements for their gender hiring practices with increases of 6.4 percentage points and 6.5 percentage points, respectively. For overall grades, the NBA and MLS increased the most at 3.5 percentage points and 2.8 percentage points, respectively.

TIDES believes that diversity, equity and inclusion both on and off the playing field are vital to the sustainable growth of sports, not just in the United States but around the globe. With the release of each report card and the collection of all report cards, TIDES continues to embrace the value of diverse and inclusive hiring practices and promote their value across all professional leagues and college sports.

The public spotlight has consistently focused on a few categories including head coach, general manager and president. Of course, based on the records of their teams, this is where leagues do not do as well.

The grade for head coaches of color for the WNBA and NBA was an A+, each with 50.0% coaches of color, respectively. MLS received an A, with 35.7%. The grades decreased for MLB coaches with a C+, at 20.0%. Trailing behind is the NFL with a C, at 18.8%. The NFL continues to struggle with hires in this position. On the other hand, the NFL now has seven people of color as team presidents, including five who are Black and three women, and nine general managers, including eight Black men.

For general managers of color, the NBA (A+ at 50.0%), WNBA (A+ at 58.3%) were again the best by far. The NFL received a B-, with 25.0%, while MLB received a D+ at 13.3% and MLS received a C, at 20.0%.

None of the leagues did well in their racial hiring practices for president/CEO. The NFL and MLS received C’s (18.8% and 17.9%, respectively). The WNBA received a C- (16.7 %). The NBA (7.0%) and MLB (3.8%) received F’s.

The NBA and WNBA continue to set the standard for professional sports in the United States. Both the WNBA and NBA received a combined grade of A. Of all professional leagues and college sports, the WNBA received the highest overall grade. On the men’s side, the NBA continues to be the only men’s professional league with an overall A grade or higher.

College sports received a C for racial hiring practices by earning 73.3%, down from 75.6% in the 2021 College Sport Racial and Gender Report Card. College sports received a C for gender hiring practices, with 74.1%, an increase from the 73.8% in the 2021 report card. The combined grade for the 2022 college sports report card was a C, with 73.7% — decreasing from the overall C with 74.7% in 2020.

Opportunities for women and people of color among college men’s and women’s head coaching positions have hardly improved over the span of a decade. For the 2022 season, 84.1% of Division I, 85.2% of Division II and 89.0% of Division III men’s coaches were white. More than 50 years since the passage of Title IX, men continue to hold the majority of head coaching positions for women’s teams across all divisions. That remains one of the worst diversity statistics in sports.

In 2006-07, 25.0% of men’s Division I basketball head coaches were Black or African American. In 2021-22, that now stands at 24.8% — which is deeply concerning.

In 2021-22, the number of head football coaches of color at the FBS level decreased from 23 in 2021 to 22 in 2022, with 13 of those being Black or African American. This is one fewer than the highest number of Black head coaches in the history of report card tracking. There were 14 in 2012. White men represented 109 of the 131 (83.2%) head coaches at the FBS level. In 2010-11, women held 39.5% of the head coaching positions for women’s teams in Division I. A decade later, they hold only 42.1%. of women’s teams — across all three divisions.

Twenty-two years ago, 2.4% of the athletic directors in Division I were Black or African American. Ten years ago, it was 6.0% and now, it is only 12.2%.

The MLB report card showed a slight increase in gender and racial hiring practices. MLB received a B on racial hiring, a C+ for gender hiring and an overall grade of B- in the 2022 report card. MLB scored 79.1% overall in 2022, a slight increase from 78.7% in 2021. MLB received 83.0% for racial hiring practices and 75.3% for gender hiring practices. MLB scored a C+ for having only 20.0% managers of color and a D+ for only 13.3% general managers of color for the fourth consecutive year.

The NBA continues to set the pace for the other three men’s sports leagues for racial and gender hiring practices. Its racial hiring grade and gender hiring grade both increased, from 94.8% to 97.0% and 81.9% to 86.5 %, respectively. The NBA scored an A+ for head coaches of color at 50.0%, which increased from 2021, and an A+ for general managers at an all-time high of 50.0%, which broke last year’s previous high of 40.0%.

In 2022, the NFL received a B+ for racial hiring practices, remaining the same as 2021. The NFL’s score for racial hiring practices was 85.0%, which was 3.5 percentage points lower than last year. The score for gender was 81.4%, a 6.4 percentage point increase from last year. The overall grade for the NFL was 83.2% in 2022, a 1.4 percentage point increase from 2021. The NFL scored 18.8% for head coaches of color, a 3.2 percentage point increase from last year’s score of 15.6%. The grade for general managers for people of color was 25.0%, increasing by 9.4 percentage points from 2021.

The WNBA continued its outstanding record for both racial and gender hiring practices. The WNBA received an A+ for racial hiring practices and an A for gender hiring in 2022. The league recorded a score of 93.2% overall, decreasing from the all-time mark of 97.6% in 2018 and 2021. This marked the 18th consecutive year that the WNBA has received at least As for their overall racial, gender and combined grades. For the first time in the past five years, the number of women holding WNBA league office positions increased, improving from 65.4% in 2021 to 69.4% in 2022. The WNBA scored an A+ for women CEO/presidents, which at 75.0% was the third time a majority of positions were held by women. Women held 66.7% of CEO/presidents positions in 2021 and 58.3% in 2020. The WNBA received an A+ for head coaches of color at 50.0% and an A+ for head coaches who were women at 58.3%. The only significantly low grade was a C- given for the racial hiring of president/CEO at 16.7%.

MLS maintained an A for racial hiring practices. MLS received a combined grade of a B+ with 90.8% for race and a B for gender hiring earning just 81.2%. This was a sizable increase of 6.5 percentage points from 2021 for gender hiring. MLS received at least an A for racial hiring in the league office, players and head coaches. The grade for racial hiring for general managers decreased to a C. As for gender hiring practices, which significantly lagged behind racial hiring throughout the league, MLS received an A- for league office employees while team professional administration received a B and senior team administration received a C. MLS scored an F in CEO/presidents.

TIDES at the University of Central Florida publishes the racial and gender report card to indicate areas of improvement, stagnation and regression in the racial and gender composition of professional and college sports personnel to contribute to increased diversity and inclusion in front office and collegiate athletics department positions.

It is imperative that teams play the best athletes they have available to win games. TIDES strives to emphasize the business value of diversity to sports organizations when they choose their team on the field and in the office. Diversity initiatives, like diversity and inclusion management training, can help change attitudes and increase the applicant pool for open positions. It is obviously the choice of the organization regarding which applicant is the best fit for their ball club, but the Institute wants to illustrate how important it is to have a diverse organization involving individuals who happen to be of a different race or gender because they can provide a different perspective, and possibly a competitive advantage, in the boardroom as well as on the field.

“The 2022 Comprehensive Race & Gender Report Card amplifies the complexities of inclusive leadership belief and practice,” said Jeff O’Brien, CEO of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. “It tells a story with various storylines — of pro vs. college sport, of racial vs. gender progress, of positional progress vs regression. It reinforces the progress the professional leagues have made along with the dogged efforts of many of them to continue to improve, and also lays bare the serious work college sport needs to do to provide diverse and welcoming workplaces for their people. The day has long passed when we have to make the business case for DEIB, and the time is now to have raised expectations for how organizations, leagues and teams ensure diverse, equitable and inclusive environments to work and play. It is encouraging to see so many taking this responsibility seriously.”

Every year, the TIDES team asks participating organizations in the racial and gender report card process: “Are we playing fair when it comes to sports? Does everyone, regardless of race or gender, have a chance to make and run the team?” While there were some discouraging declines in 2022, TIDES believes that the leaders in both professional and collegiate sports are committed to diversity and inclusion and will continue to look for ways to provide opportunities for individuals from all walks of life to play and work within sports.

All sports leagues as well as college sports should aim to reach the records established by the WNBA. All leagues and colleges should be improving their overall grades every year. That remained an unmet goal in 2022. The year 2023 needs to set a new pace for diversity and inclusion.

TIDES believes in the power of sport to change society and bring people together. As reported again in the 2022 Racial and Gender Report Card series, professional leagues and college sports revealed a mix of positive and negative results. Most of the negative results were in key decision-making roles at both professional team and individual college levels. White men continue to control most of the decision-making jobs. The goal of TIDES in publishing the racial and gender report card is to help professional and college sports recognize that sports, which is the United States’ most integrated workplace for players and student-athletes, can do better than society in deciding who to hire in decision-making positions. If they do that, the power of sports can filter to the rest of the nation as well as the local communities which our pro and college teams call home. TIDES has no doubt that sports can help lead the U.S. to become a more inclusive and just society.

TIDES is convinced that the commissioners and their league offices are leading the way as important voices and examples for diversity and inclusion for teams across the NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS and WNBA. TIDES also is encouraged by the new leadership at the NCAA.

Sports has the capacity to lead the way on diversity, equity and inclusion. Hopefully it does just that in 2023.

Richard E. Lapchick is the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida, the author of 17 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card and the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook.

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