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Volume 23 No. 13
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Sport carries great responsibility for diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion is a business imperative that starts with leadership. It is very encouraging to watch most of the major professional and amateur sports leagues take this concept to heart and hire senior diversity and inclusion executives. Oris Stuart (NBA), Renée Tirado (MLB), Kim Davis (NHL), Troy Vincent (NFL) and Katrice Albert (NCAA) are just a few of the leaders in diversity and inclusion roles. They work to make diversity and inclusion the responsibility for everyone in their respective organizations.

League and team executives are recognizing that a woman, a person of color, a Muslim, a member of the LGBTQ community, a foreign-born citizen, a disabled person, an elderly person, a young person and other underrepresented people bring different perspectives to every facet of the business. These different backgrounds and perspectives create a competitive advantage in the production of decision-quality information and bold, innovative action. 

The leagues and teams that successfully build a culture of diversity and inclusion in the workplace often begin to realize the true power of sport and the impact it has far beyond the financial worksheets of the organization. Sport has the intrinsic ability to bring about positive social change in the communities where we live, work and play. The culture of the leagues and teams naturally permeate throughout these communities and institutions, with the ability to enrich our lives, create opportunities and forge trust and relationships. A team just needs to look out into the crowd to see the impact they are having in their community — the more diverse the league and team, the more diverse the fans will be in the arena or stadium on game day.

We just watched three of the most exciting sport championship events in the world.

The Women’s World Cup made what may have been the biggest statement about gender equity in sport with its loud call for equal pay.

It is very common for professional sports leagues to lack diversity among owners and senior executives. The two teams that were in the NBA Finals smashed these barriers. One team president was Masai Ujiri, a Nigerian, and the other was Rick Welts, the highest-ranking LGBTQ executive in sports. The Toronto Raptors have three women in senior vice president and above positions and two people of color in senior executive roles (in addition to Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster). The Golden State Warriors have two people of color as minority owners of the team, including a woman of color (Erika Glazer). This kind of diversity and inclusion gives women and people of color the confidence that they can be respected leaders in the sports industry.

College baseball teams have traditionally been known to be less diverse than most collegiate sports. In fact, across all of Division I baseball teams, only 3.7% of the players were African American. The two teams in the College World Series finals were Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan. I counted 14 African American players on the two teams combined, equaling 19% of the players. This kind of diversity and inclusion breaks down stereotypes and inspires other student athletes of color to pursue their dreams of playing baseball or any other sport. It leads to positive social change in the community.

Sports have become exponentially more accessible to fans. In the case of the NBA Finals and the College World Series, there were millions of fans who either attended the games, watched the games on TV, streamed the games or watched highlights from a computer or mobile device. It is estimated that more than 1 billion people watched at least one of the games in the the Women’s World Cup. The more diverse the team, the more inclusive the sport will become. The more inclusive the sport, the more diverse and inclusive the fan base will become. The more diverse the fan base, the more diverse perspectives and thoughts will permeate our communities.

The men and women responsible for sport are leaders. Everyone in sport is responsible for understanding the diversity and inclusion imperative. This includes the governing bodies, the league and team staffs, the athletes, the media and the sponsors. The DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida has taken the leadership role in giving students the tools they need to positively influence social change wherever they choose to live and work. DeVos graduates have led diversity and inclusion initiatives at MiLB, NASCAR, the NCAA and the University of Nebraska. More than 400 other graduates of the program have taken the values of the program — including ethics, community service, leadership, innovation and diversity — into their communities to be leaders and champions for the power of sport. It is critical for more graduate sports management programs to implement what the DeVos Program is doing in terms of diversity, community service and leadership projects. It’s just common sense for sports management programs to cultivate leadership in the sports industry and the communities.

The power of sport is real and the more the industry seizes it and uses it, the faster we will become a truly diverse and inclusive nation that makes equity and equality the ultimate outcome.

Richard Lapchick (rlapchick@ucf.edu) is chairman of the University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sport Business Management program and is director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport and the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick. David Zimmerman made a significant contribution to this column.

Questions about OPED submission guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at jkyler@sportsbusinessjournal.com