While coaches and fans closely follow their team’s wins and losses, longtime UCF Professor Richard Lapchick is monitoring another statistic, one that can’t be found in a box score.
Known as the social conscience of sport, Lapchick has spent the past three decades monitoring gender and racial hiring trends in sports. As director for The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, Lapchick releases Racial and Gender Report Cards for professional, collegiate and amateur sports each year. The widely publicized report cards help to hold leagues accountable for their hiring diverse and inclusive staffs.
“The impact of the racial reckoning on American society has been enormous. That included the world of professional and college sports,” says Lapchick, who stepped down this past fall after 20 years at the helm of UCF’s DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program to share his social justice and anti-racist messages with new audiences. “All of that is reflected in the 2021 Complete Racial and Gender Report Card.”
The 2021 Complete Racial and Gender Report Card includes the grades and assessments for Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and college sport. Only the WNBA, with its A+ rating, received an A or better in the overall grade. The NBA followed with a B+, while the MLS and NFL earned Bs, and MLB got a C+. College sport again received the lowest grade with a C.
“Opportunities for people of color and women to be hired in college sports are still not where they need to be for real diversity, equity and inclusion on too many campuses,” noted Lapchick in a January 2022 article for ESPN.
According to the report, gender hiring practices generally lagged behind racial hiring and only saw increases in the NFL and MLS. Only the WNBA and NBA earned grades above a C+, receiving an A+ and a B, respectively. The NFL received a C+ while college sport, MLB and MLS earned a C.
The reports for each of the major professional sports and college sport are referenced widely by national sports media. The 2021-2022 reports received 1,001 mentions, earning more than $40 million in media coverage, from outlets ranging from ESPN, NBC Sports and USA Today to The Boston Globe, Time Magazine and The Athletic.
The Grade Scale
The research is led by Lapchick and a team of graduate students from the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program, who rely on the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s research and aggregate data provided by the various professional sports leagues to complete the Racial and Gender Report Cards.
The report cards track the racial and gender makeup of players, coaches, managers, the front office, team staff, league office, game officials and members of the media. The grades are calculated in relation to overall patterns in society based on federal affirmative action policies that state the workplace should reflect the percentage of the people in the racial group in the population.
Lapchick says that while there has been improvement over the years, the Racial and Gender Report Card data show that professional sport’s front offices hiring practices still do not reflect the number of players of color competing in the game.
“Diversity and inclusion are paramount. This is true for both the business operations and sports operations side of the front office/athletic department,” Lapchick says. “Generally, aside from head coaches, general managers, team presidents and college athletic directors, the key decision makers within this space are less visible to the public eye yet they help influence trends within the industry.”
The grading scale for 2021 Racial and Gender Report Cards is based on the racial group percentages found in the 2010 Census data. For example, an A would be earned if 28.6% of the employees were people of color while 17% earns a B. The scale will switch to the 2020 Census beginning with the 2022 report cards.
In 2021, bonus points were added for hiring milestones and crucial social justice initiatives, such as the NBA’s Building Bridges Through Basketball program and the NFL’s Experienceship program. They also began calculating team ownership into the final grades.
The final report cards are distributed to the media, typically during the league or sport’s current season, and Lapchick shares them on ESPN.com where he is a commentator and columnist.
A Powerful Voice
A scholar and author, Lapchick is a well-known human rights activist, pioneer for racial equality and a sought-after expert on sports issues. In addition to TIDES, he is the president of the Institute of Sport and Social Justice located at UCF. He was named the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian of the Year in 2021 by the Muhammad Ali Center. In 2014, the National Basketball Retired Players Association gave Lapchick, Bill Russell and Pat Summit its Life Achievement Award. In 2013, the National Association of Black Journalists honored Lapchick with the Pioneer Award.
In other words, when Lapchick talks, the sports world listens.
“The report card illuminates very clearly the gaps in representation across all sports and the work that has to be done,” said Oris Stuart, NBA’s chief people and inclusion officer, in a UCF Today article in 2020.
By tracking the gender and racial hiring stats for the past 30+ years, the report cards serve as a baseline to measure diversity in the industry, celebrating gains and milestones while also pointing out organizations that trail behind or make empty promises.
“When I started getting involved in diversity and inclusion 52 years ago, diversity, we argued, was a moral imperative, and that kind of fell off the table as diversity became a business imperative,” Lapchick says. “I think what has happened recently is that we are once again talking about diversity and inclusion being a moral imperative as well as a business imperative.”
The full reports for each league and sport can be found at tidesport.org