(Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Jackie Robinson Foundation)
I have long respected the work of Richard Lapchick, a professor at the University of Central Florida and a trailblazer in the study of race, gender and sports. Lapchick’s periodic reports have fueled much debate over the years, and I see no reason his recent report card on college sports won’t be the center of sports conversation for a while.
Instead of honestly evaluating race, Lapchick’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport gave college sports an inflated grade. How, when you crunch the numbers, does college sports earn a “B” for its hiring practices on the race front? A “B” suggests that college administrators are on the right track. The reality is an altogether different matter; they are not.
Deep into the 21st century now, the goals of equal opportunities — of sports as a meritocracy — exist on the basketball court and on the football field, but they are as elusive elsewhere as they have been for the last five decades.
Essentially, the hiring of Black coaches has stood still. According to findings in the Lapchick report, whites hold 85 percent of head coaching jobs in the three NCAA divisions. Jobs as athletic directors are even harder for Blacks to land. In Division I alone the percentage of whites in the athletic director’s chair is 89 percent.
Think that’s horrific? Well, look at this percentage: In the major sports conferences, all commissioners are white males.
Such numbers are sobering reminders of how excluded Blacks are from positions that govern decisions.
These numbers allow us to reflect on comments Al Campanis, a Los Angeles Dodgers executive, made in 1987. When asked why more Blacks weren’t in baseball’s front offices, Campanis dared say what his white peers would not: “[Blacks] may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager.”
Campanis soon became the face of this empty-headed, racist mindset.
But numbers like Lapchick’s have no face; they are sterile, devoid of emotion, bendable to suit circumstances. For insiders can always claim “the numbers are better than they used to be.”
I would not make a big to-do over that statement if I were sports czar. What I would ask instead is why has the pace of hiring Black coaches (and athletic directors) been at such a glacial pace?
For the better part of 50 years now, Black assistant coaches have been on college staffs. (What program doesn’t have a running backs coach who is Black or a Black recruiting coordinator?)
Despite all the talk about progress, about equal opportunity, about improvement in the leadership ranks, evidence suggests otherwise. Whites hold tightly to the positions that matter most in college sports.
They have played musical chairs with the best coaching jobs. They continue to move around from stop to stop, building resumes, banking big paychecks and keeping Blacks in secondary roles.
Yet no one said the march to equal opportunity would be a steady one. Then again, one thought the march would not find so many roadblocks in the way in recent years.
That’s what makes Lapchick’s report card worrisome. To me, a B rewards people for not making progress. They seem not to be trying.
From where I sit, college sports deserves an F for doing too little to fulfill the promise of more opportunities for leadership jobs in the wake of the post-Campanis era.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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