SBJ/November 11 - 17, 2002/Opinion

Cure's as plain as black and white

Take a look at this week's front page. You'll see a package of stories that look disturbingly familiar. Take a look at the Special Report on diversity and you'll see an unflattering image of the industry. Like looking into a mirror, you're reminded of blemishes that without accurate reflection are too easily forgotten.

Sometimes it's the job of a journal to hold up a mirror to its readers. You may know what to expect from the looking glass, but you don't always like what you see.

SportsBusiness Journal takes its second look at diversity in sports this week, a six-month study of the core industry and those segments that serve sports. The results are far from pretty.

So take a look at yourself in the stories and charts in this week's Special Report. You'll see more than unsightly blemishes and mere moles; you'll see a boil on the tip of your nose. It's the raw inflammation caused by an industry so lacking color. Like Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson did on the playing field 55 years ago, it takes guts to lance it.

Does that make you uncomfortable? It should. Diversity issues often revolve around comfort or lack of it.

"I think people hire people like themselves," Janice Fanning Madden, a Penn economist, said in one of those page 1 stories, "people they feel more comfortable with."

White males own 96.5 percent of major league sports teams. That's a product of wealth rather than choice. But their hiring decisions are all too predictable. That very exclusive club of white males hires other white males for executive positions at a rate that reflects their own ranks, 96.3 percent.

No doubt a few of those hiring choices are the product of latent racism. But most owners are not racists, just guys — white guys — with heavy investments looking for their own degree of comfort.

"There's some trust issues," Richard Saenz, the Arizona Diamondbacks' director of Hispanic marketing, said about hiring minorities. "The owners have to be comfortable."

But leadership isn't about comfort, it's about having the guts to do the right thing ... to lance the boil. Robinson and Rickey put themselves in an uneasy position years before Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, before Brown vs. Board of Education, and before Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed his dream. They used the playing fields of sports to lead a nation.

But they left the boardrooms of sports for someone else's crusade. No one has taken the challenge.

The SportsBusiness Journal study found that 53 percent of the players in the four major team-sport leagues are minorities, but executives, not only with clubs but throughout the sports industry, are white males:

96.3 percent of franchise executives.

80.5 percent of sports agents.

72.6 percent in architecture and construction.

88.8 percent in facilities operations.

88.5 percent in media.

89.1 percent in professional services.

Here's the worst part: Since we did our original study three years ago, the numbers haven't changed. We could find no progress in any quarter.

I wrote at that time: "The sad realization is that the core industry of sports hasn't changed its racial makeup appreciably. While there is an ever-larger percentage of black and Latino athletes, the decision-making levels of sports remained largely a club for white men."

These are men who remain comfortable by avoiding the stark reality of mirrors.

No other industry defines the fabric of Americana as sports does, but the sports industry is obviously whiter than corporate America. It parades its racial integration in its most public arenas but remains racially pure behind its oak doors. It will stay that way waiting for another Rickey or Robinson or until its leaders decide to put the comfort of players and fans before their own.

John Genzale (jgenzale@sportsbusinessjournal.com) is editor-in-chief of SportsBusiness Journal.

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Arizona Diamondbacks, Opinion

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