High and Low Marks on a Sports Racial Report Card

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When it comes to providing playing opportunities for minorities, the National Basketball Association, National Football League, and Major League Baseball can feel good about their grades (A-plus, A-plus, and A, respectively) in 1997. Before getting big-headed, though, they probably need to look at the full Racial Report Card issued by Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

The point of the center's report, now in its ninth year, is to analyze the hiring of women and people of color in the three major pro leagues. The study's focus is how the leagues and teams in them are doing in filling nonplaying positions - from front-office interns to executives and everything in between, including head and assistant coaches.

When overall performance is examined, the NBA is given an A-minus, the NFL a B-minus, and Major League Baseball, which did not provide sufficient data in some categories, a C.

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Grades are based on how the composition of the sports work force relates to the makeup of society at large. On this score, the report concludes that sport, while well integrated athletically, is "not much better than society" administratively.

"As a whole, over nine years, there has been gradual progress in most pro sports," says Richard Lapchick, director of Sport in Society. "The spurts have always come after some controversial event. The one league that has constantly built a regular basis [of hiring minorities] over that period of time is the NBA. The others have had more herky-jerky responses."

Where the Sport in Society report finds the greatest room for across-the-board improvement is at the top management level, where the NBA receives the highest grade of C, and baseball the lowest of F. The NFL gets a C-minus.

In the ownership area, no blacks or Latinos serve as majority owners in any of the leagues. In addition, about two dozen women are identified in the report as part-owners of teams.

For the first time, the report included comparative data for college sports, which trail pro leagues in their racial and gender hiring practices. The worst record in this regard occurs among the smallest colleges, or those at the Division III level. In another finding, the percentage of black student-athletes has declined over the past five years.

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