SBJ/June 2-8, 2014/Opinion

Headlines show there’s work to be done on racism in sports

This is the season when we start to issue the Racial and Gender Report Cards at the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The Major League Baseball report card was the first to be issued this year, in April — just as the swirling controversy around Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in the NBA broke.

That Sterling-Clippers story line drew headlines far and wide, but there were in fact many stories involving race in the last few months, occurring at all levels of sport. While most of these stories went virtually unnoticed, they reveal how far we have to go:

In January, according the Polish newspaper Glos Wielkopolski, a Lodz-Poznan soccer match witnessed the Poznan fans shouting to the Lodz fans, “You belong in Auschwitz,” “Ride on, Jews” and “Into the ovens.”

In February, eight white wrestlers from Phillipsburg, N.J., were suspended from the state high school tournament after they posed for a photo with an effigy of a black rival hanging from a rope.

In the same month, members of a University of Mississippi fraternity placed a noose and flag with the Confederate symbol on a statue of civil rights hero James Meredith.

Three Mahopac (N.Y.) High School students were suspended for sending racist tweets after their boys basketball team lost to Mount Vernon in the state tournament. Mahopac students allegedly shouted racist remarks at the mostly African-American Mount Vernon High players throughout the game. Mahopac’s coach, who is black and an alumnus, resigned.

In April, the imposing statues of Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the campus of San Jose State were vandalized when someone smashed the gold medal around Smith’s neck.

Also in April, a fan threw a banana at Dani Alves in a soccer match between Villareal and Barcelona. Alves silenced the crowd when he ate the banana. Villareal was fined $17,000.

Last month, Montreal Canadians defenseman P.K. Subban received hateful tweets and had a water bottle thrown at him by a fan. Also last month, Pape Diop, a Barcelona soccer player who is black, was subjected to racist chants during a match against Atletico Madrid.

Serie A club Atalanta was fined $55,000 by the Italian Football Federation after a May 11 game against AC Milan in which fans threw bananas at Milan player Kevin Constant.

Some University of Texas fans were accused of racism after they created shirts that said, “Black is the new Brown,” when Charlie Strong was named head coach after former coach Mack Brown resigned.

Finally, just as I was completing this column, the following was reported:

Mario Balotelli was verbally abused with racist taunts by Italian fans during a training session in Florence.

Adam Goodes, the winner of this year’s Australian of the Year football award in that country, had his Facebook page attacked with hateful, race-related posts.

FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against Paris Saint-Germain for racist behavior in a Champions League match against Chelsea. It has been 21 years since FIFA launched its “Kick It Out” campaign to combat racism in soccer, but it does not seem like there has been much progress. In a March survey, Kick It Out found that more than half of Premier League and Football League players have witnessed racist abuse in stadiums and a quarter of them have been subjected to it. Furthermore, 20 percent of the respondents said they had witnessed racist abuse in locker rooms or at the training ground. Seven percent said they were racially abused themselves.

These examples involved players and fans alike. How do leagues and teams send a message that such actions are unacceptable? Fines and punishment are a start, but looking in the mirror and making front offices more diverse — hiring women and people of color in decision-making roles — does even more. Showing fans and players that racism is unacceptable at any level of sports remains a work in progress.

And so we go back to the MLB report card.

Although the report covers every professional position in the league office and for each team, the most attention is almost always paid to the decline in the number of African-American players in MLB. It is ironic that this sticks out in the minds of most who read the report card.

This year, baseball tied an all-time low with 8.2 percent of the league’s players on Opening Day rosters being African-American. Story after story was written about this fact and the reasons why most young African-American children play basketball and football instead of baseball. Yet frequently ignored is the fact that 39 percent of those playing in MLB are players of color when you include Latinos, Asians and Native Americans.

Additionally, one of Commissioner Bud Selig’s legacies will be taking MLB from being run by mostly white men to a league where 28 percent of the professional positions in MLB’s central office are held by people of color and 30 percent are held by women. At the team level in senior administrative positions, 20 percent are held by people of color and 26.5 percent are held by women. At the professional level of the teams, 22 percent are held by people of color and 27 percent are held by women.

Part of the commissioner’s legacy has to be that he consistently took a stand to bring about these changes and help MLB adopt what may be the best set of diversity initiatives in all of professional sports.
The NBA’s report card is due out in a month. The NBA has consistently led all professional sports on racial and gender hiring practices.

The scrutiny is on professional and college sports in terms of hiring practices. It is always our hope that sports will take a leadership role in bringing about positive social change. To some degree the respective racial and gender report cards are a barometer of that fact. However, the long list of recent racial incidents in the world of sport cited above show we have a long road ahead.

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, MLS, college sports, and the APSE. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook at facebook.com/richard.lapchick.

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