SBJ/February 25-March 3, 2013/Opinion

Despite progress, diversity hiring in sports media still poor

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Lapchick
Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Of all the racial and gender report cards produced by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, the most discouraging was the first Associated Press Sports Editors report card in 2006. Unfortunately, that sentiment is still applicable today.

It is discouraging because the percentages of people of color and women in the top-level positions in sports media remain dismally low. The hiring practices of ESPN appear to be the only factor that is bringing up the percentages.

In the report that’s due to be released this week, the grade for racial hiring practices for APSE newspapers and websites last year remained a C+, the same as in 2010. The F grade issued for gender hiring practices remained constant as well. The combined grade for 2012 was a D+.

The following (top chart) shows the percentages of white employees in key positions in 2010 and 2012:

The following (bottom chart) shows the percentages of men in key positions in 2010 and 2012:

Some improvements are evident. Nonetheless,
if you look like me, you have a great chance for upward mobility in the sports departments of newspapers and dot-coms in the United States and Canada. If you are a woman or person of color, even in 2013, your chances are extremely limited.

In each of the reports in 2006, 2008, 2010 and now, ESPN’s statistics for sports editors and columnists raised the numbers. Without their key hirings, the statistics would be even worse than they were in 2006.

In the new report card, of the 12 people of color who are sports editors at “Circulation A” media outlets (the largest newspapers and dot-coms, with a circulation of 175,000 or more), four work for ESPN, which employed two of the six African-American sports editors and two of the four Latino sports editors. If ESPN’s people of color were removed, the percentage of sports editors in the “A” organizations who are people of color would drop from 15 percent to 11 percent.

Of the 11 women who are sports editors at this circulation level, six work for ESPN. If the ESPN sports editors who are women were removed, then the percentage of female sports editors at this level would drop from 14 percent to 8 percent.

Sports media continues to lag behind the leagues it covers when it comes to diversity hiring.
Photo: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
Of the 52 men of color who are columnists at this circulation level, 37 work for ESPN, which employed 28 of the 40 African-American male columnists, three of the six Latino columnists, and all six Asian columnists. If ESPN’s male columnists who are people of color were removed, the percentage of columnists of color at this level would drop from 20 percent to 7 percent.

Of the 35 women who are columnists at this circulation level, 23 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN columnists were removed, the percentage of female columnists at this level would drop from 13 percent to 5 percent.

When we did the study in 2006, Jemele Hill, then a columnist at the Orlando Sentinel, was the only African-American woman columnist in America. Seven years later, Hill is at ESPN, and Shannon Owens, the woman who replaced her at the Sentinel, is the only other female columnist of color.

We have a long way to go before women and people of color are fairly represented in our major newspapers and dot-coms. As we wait for that day to come, I have to wonder how many great stories we’ve missed covering, how many we might have covered better and how many we would have had a completely different take on were things different. In the meantime, I give credit to the APSE, which is the only organization that has ever asked us to hold its feet to the fire by publishing a racial and gender report card on it.

Garry D. Howard, editor-in-chief at Sporting News (which is owned by SBJ parent American City Business Journals), and John Cherwa, an editor at the Los Angeles Times and who served as the adviser for this study, were instrumental in getting the report cards on the sports media started. I asked them where we are now.

“I have seen the future today in Greg Lee of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Lisa Bell of The Buffalo News and Larry Graham of the San Diego Union-Tribune, and I am elated over their ascension to the top spot at their respective sports news organizations,” Howard said. “This gives me hope that upper management will continue to see fit to include people of color in the process to compete for the top jobs in their departments, not just sports editor, but columnist and managing editor as well. We’ve come a long way, but there are still many miles to go.”

Said Cherwa: “Our business is going through seismic changes, and it’s interesting to see how that relates to our diversity efforts. And the answer is that those efforts continue to make incremental progress; less than we would hope for, but still headed in the right direction.”

My primary recommendation to the APSE remains that it adopt a rule, similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL, that would call for a diverse pool of candidates for each opening of these key positions. I would call it the Ralph Wiley Rule after the late writer. That may be the push that is imperative.

Richard E. Lapchick (rlapchick@ucf.edu) is the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, which annually publishes racial and gender report cards on MLB, the NBA and WNBA, NFL, college sports, and the APSE. Lapchick is the author of 16 books that primarily focus on racial and gender issues and ethics in college sport.

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