The Final Whistle

African-American representation in sports

More stories from Jon Fortier

The Final Whistle
May 15, 2019

With Black History Month almost in the rear view, it’s time to reflect on representation within the professional sports sphere. For many years, black players were not allowed to participate in the same league as white players and had their own leagues. That all changed in the 1940s. Now it is 2019, and our society has come a long way since then. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

On opening day of 2017, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports reported that 43 percent of players were of color. Thirty-five percent of these players were of Latino, Asian or other diverse backgrounds. Only eight percent of these players were black. These numbers may not seem very alarming considering that in 1946, there were no black players in the MLB, but that was over 70 years ago.

On the managerial side of baseball, the numbers are alarming. When opening day kicks off in 2019, there will only be one black manager in the MLB. That lone manager is Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers. This statistic is astonishing, considering that for years the MLB has put rules in place to prevent this type of scenario.

It all started during game two of the 1972 World Series, when Jackie Robinson publicly called out the MLB for its lack of black managers. Almost 30 years later, the MLB addressed the issue by enacting the Selig Rule. This rule requires that clubs interview at least one person of color for high-ranking positions, yet here we are today with only one black manager.

On the other hand, TIDES found that 70 percent of players in the NFL are black, which can help us understand why the national anthem protest is such a big issue amongst the players. Much like the MLB, on the managerial side, black representation is at an all-time low. Only nine percent of team managers are black, which is down five percent from 1996. There are no black owners — these are the people who help make rules in the NFL that affect the 70 percent of players who are black.  

The NBA is slightly better in regards to other leagues. TIDES found that 75 percent of players in the NBA are black, and 17 percent of front office positions are held by black people. Black people make up 20 percent of the head coaching positions, as well.

The lack of diversity amongst ownership and coaches led LeBron James of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers to call out NFL owners as having a slave mentality last December. When comparing the NBA and the NFL, it is clear to see that there is division amongst the NFL and unity amongst the NBA. In recent years, this has led to the rise in popularity of the NBA and decline of the NFL, according to Google Trends.

Slavery has been gone for over 150 years, yet there are still clear problems of representation by black athletes in our society. They continue to face the same problems that were confronted during the civil rights movements of the 1950s. When athletes confront these issues in the public sphere, they are told to shut up and dribble. They are told to stop playing politics, and to start playing the game. This begs us to ask the question — has anything really changed?

Fortier can be reached at [email protected].