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Monday, September 27, 2021

American sports sees a lack of diversity in team, coach composition

Although leagues have begun to make strides in increasing diversity, it is still a work-in-progress

Diversity in American sports contributes to respect and helps people to value one another in society. It breaks barriers among people with different backgrounds and helps them form relationships that would have never otherwise been formed.

Today, major sport organizations like the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) claim to prioritize diversity, but often implementation of the idea is not visible within their coaching staff hires or player picks.

In 2015, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck wrote about the sudden loss of Black coaches in the NBA. 

“NBA teams, now more than ever, are seeking unconventional hires—college coaches, first-time coaches, foreign coaches, broadcasters, former video coordinators—and turning away from the standard pool of former players-turned-coaches, a pool that is, by definition, predominantly Black,” Beck said.

Even when putting aside race, gender representation seems to be an issue in the NBA as well. Becky Hammon became the first female assistant coach in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. It was the beginning of a huge culture shift that has led to there being 11 more women assistant coaches today. However, the NBA still has a long path ahead of them to diversify. In a diverse environment, the morale of players may increase and there will be more productivity for the NBA.

In the MLB, 40% of the players on the 2020 Opening Day rosters were from non-white backgrounds, and only 7.5% were African-American.

Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond announced last year that he wouldn’t be participating in the 2020 season. He said COVID-19 wasn’t a risk worth taking, but he also wanted to support his local little league baseball field because the MLB isn’t supporting underprivileged communities. Based on his former experiences in youth baseball as a biracial kid, Desmond understood firsthand how difficult it could be to find support from others in the sport of baseball. 

“Why isn’t there an academy in every single community?” Desmond said. “Why does Major League Baseball have to have a specific youth baseball affiliation with RBI? Why can’t we support teaching the game to all kids—but especially those in underprivileged communities? Why aren’t accessible, affordable youth sports viewed as an essential opportunity to affect kids’ development, as opposed to money-making propositions and recruiting chances?”

By not assisting these underprivileged communities, the MLB may face serious consequences in the future by missing out on the recruitment of amazing young, talented players who just need support behind them to get a chance to compete in the professional levels down the road. Yet, as Desmond illustrated, the MLB is also missing out on the opportunity to affect meaningful change in the lives of young baseball players across the country, regardless of their possible contribution to the league’s financial success.

In regards to gender diversity, women are gradually gaining more representation in the MLB. Kim Ng became the first woman general manager in the MLB for the Miami Marlins in November of 2020. Ng is one of the most qualified people with over 30 years of experience. The barrier she broke serves as inspiration for many young girls and women to pursue their dreams in having a high position in baseball.

Last year, the NFL spoke about their commitment to the inclusion of diversity in its coaching positions. The league expanded its Rooney Rule that requires the club teams to interview two people of color for coaching positions, and compensated them with an extra third round pick. This past season was the first year since 2013 that only four minority coaches held head coaching positions. This new policy will have the NFL monitoring the interviews closely to ensure diversity amongst the 32 club teams.

“The commissioner has made it a focus area in league meetings for a good period of time but especially over the last year,” said former NFL general manager Rod Graves. “I think the awareness level regarding the issues of diversity in the league or lack of is higher than it’s been in quite a while.”

Even then, only two minority head coaches were hired in this past hiring cycle, leaving out Kansas City Chiefs talented offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy once again. The NFL has a lot of work to do when it comes to diversifying, and a lot of it starts from the top down.

A similar need for increased diversity has also been recognized in hockey. In June of 2020, seven former and current players from the NHL formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance. They operate independently from the NHL and their goal is to promote diversity in all levels of hockey, not just at the professional level.

These seven players, led by Akim Aliu and Evander Kane, partnered up with female hockey players across the U.S. and Canada and the Youth Inclusion Committee. 

“In creating our alliance, we are confident we can inspire a new generation of hockey players and fans,” the group said in a statement. “We are hopeful that anyone who puts on skates or sits in the stands and will do so without worrying about race, gender or socioeconomic background will be able to express their culture, identity, values and personality without fear of retribution.”

All professional sports organizations and athletes seem to be working towards improving diversity and developing new ideas to foster inclusive communities. It is going to take a lot of work, but in recent years leagues have begun to stress the importance of diversity even more. The hope is that these efforts will eventually bring people of all backgrounds together in sports through diverse environments at both the professional and amateur levels, increasing access to and belonging within these communities for everyone, not just those who have been historically represented in them.

Written by: Katherin Raygoza — sports@theaggie.org


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