Lapchick: College sports needs more equitable representation

Editor’s note: Richard Lapchick is a human rights activist, pioneer for racial equality, expert on sports issues, scholar and author. He is president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, chairman of the DeVos Sports Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

Like everyone else in the United States, I am transfixed by the outrage over the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor followed by the massive protests across America and the reactions to them. Like the protesters, I am outraged by how they died and how it reflects racism in America. And all this is transpiring in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has stolen more than 100,000 of our people.

In the midst of this national nightmare, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida released the 2019 College Racial and Gender Report Card. It seemed so insignificant compared to the lives lost and the divisions driving the protests. But the protests are about unequal treatment of and the lack of opportunities for people of color and women in America. The report card is a reflection of that in sport.

With the negative news in the report card, I must also showcase leaders who have emerged from being a college student-athlete. These are a few of the former student-athletes helping in the battle against the coronavirus.

In Tempe, Arizona, nearly two decades ago as a new century dawned, a young Native American woman walked to basketball practice looking forward to her first practice as an Arizona State Sun Devil, graduating, and returning to serve her Navajo community. Nearly two decades removed from her basketball career, Dr. Michelle Tom now deals with the reality of treating patients at the Little Colorado Medical Center. The Center serves the Navajo Nation, a population where more than 1,300 people have been infected with COVID-19. Dr. Tom’s small rural hospital has only 22 beds and two ventilators.

In 2005, a junior at Tulane University took batting practice in preparation for the MLB draft, as Hurricane Katrina neared. Dr. Mark Hamilton recently obtained his doctorate degree from Hofstra University. He will begin his residency at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital in New York, sitting at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. At least one of his first 12 months will be dedicated exclusively to the intensive care unit.

At Florida State, a Bahamian football player, deciding between the NFL and becoming a neurosurgeon, strapped his helmet on after he received word that he had been selected as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford to study medicine. Nearly a decade later, Dr. Myron Rolle now serves the public at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where more than 12,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported.

Student-athletes have become politicians, activists and life-saving doctors. During the trials we face in life, it is often the athlete in us that we lean on to persevere. When sports return from the coronavirus hiatus, athletes should be supported and represented equally, now more than ever. It is my hope that we can identify where athletes need equitable representation, and work to achieve it.

2019 College Race and Gender Report Card

This year, TIDES reviewed the gender and racial hiring practices across all three divisions as well as in the NCAA national office. This report examines race and gender disparities throughout the NCAA and their member institutions. The 2019 College Sport Racial and Gender Report Card (CSRGRC) results show some improvement but also that we have a long way to go.

THE GRADES

Hiring practices: B

Gender hiring practices: C+

Overall grade: C+

In the graduate program at UCF where I am a professor, any grade below a B is considered not passing. A student is allowed one C to be able to remain in the program. Two of the three grades for college sports were below a B.

The report card takes a deeper look into the racial and gender hiring practices at the NCAA national office and its member institutions. The report also looks at university leadership positions, including university presidents, athletic directors, associate and assistant athletic directors, head coaches and assistant coaches of men’s and women’s teams, the faculty athletics representatives, senior women administrators, sports information directors and other professional administrators at NCAA member institutions. It also looks at the NCAA national office leadership makeup, conference commissioners and the student-athletes.

Executives and conference leadership

The NCAA improved once again in 2019, increasing the number of people of color in several categories. NCAA vice presidents and above increased from 29.4 percent to 31.6 percent for an all-time high in report history. All were African American.

The position of conference commissioner was historically held by a white man. For the first time, there were two people of color who held positions as conference commissioners in the FBS: Keith Gill (Sun Belt) and Kevin Warren (Big Ten). There was one woman commissioner, Judy MacLeod (Conference USA). Just this week, Warren showed the value of diverse leadership when he formed the Big Ten Conference Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition to face what is going on across the United States.

Looking at all Division I conferences, excluding Historically Black Conferences, 26 of 30 commissioners were white while nine were women.

College athletic directors

The lack of representation at individual athletic departments is the worst, where 84.5 percent, 89.8 percent and 92.5 percent of all the athletics directors were white in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively.

The pipeline that leads into the athletic director position does not bode well for developing and promoting enough people of color to reflect the nation’s demographics. White men and women held 85.1 percent, 87.6 percent, and 92.6 percent of the positions of associate athletic directors in 2018-2019 in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively.

Managing directors, directors and staff

In professional sports, the league offices have better records than their teams with respect to gender and racial hiring practices. This is also true in college sports, if you view the NCAA as the league office. The NCAA’s managing directors and directors are 50 percent women for the first time in report history, while the total percentage of women in full-time administrator positions at the NCAA national office has reached an all-time high of 58.8 percent.

Managing directors and directors who were people of color increased to 22.1 percent for the 2019 report, topping the 19.3 percent mark set in 2018. At the professional administration level, people of color held 23.1 percent of the positions, an increase from the 22.5 percent marked in the same category last year.

Coaches

Coaches are the leaders who arguably have the most influence on student-athletes, the leaders of tomorrow. In 2018-2019, white men or women dominated the head coaching ranks on men’s teams — holding 85.0 percent, 86.9 percent, and 91.1 percent of all head coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively. White men or women held 83.2 percent, 85.5 percent, and 91.2 percent of the women’s head coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively.

Nearly five decades after the passage of Title IX (June 23, 1972), women still did not hold most coaching opportunities in women’s sports. Nearly 60 percent of all women’s teams are coached by men. More than 50 percent of all the assistant coaches of women’s teams are men. How is this still possible?

At the same time, we also need to recall the words of the late Nelson Mandela, the greatest leader of my lifetime. “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers.”

With our world on pause in a seeming nightmare that is all too real, the stage is set for sports to help. But our voice is weakened if sports itself does not live up to its ideals and offer equal opportunity. And college sports clearly do not do that.

It will be a difficult task, but the leaders in sports must make it a point to encourage the inclusion and empowerment of those who need it most, if for no other reason than the world expects it.

Whether an athlete is in the majority or a minority, we need to create a place where they feel empowered and hopeful, knowing they belong in the sport they love.

Now more than ever.

Nicholas Mutebi and Andre Vasquez made significant contributions to this column.

Richard E. Lapchick is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of 17 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card and is the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook.