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Sports media’s diversity lags behind leagues that it covers

Sports media’s diversity lags behind leagues that it covers

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Lapchick
White men continue to dominate the top-level sports media positions. For those seeking diversity in the media, there was not much good news in the 2010-11 Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card. The media had the worst grades for both racial and gender hiring practices among all the report cards issued in 2010 and 2011.

This is a call to action that the media adopt a Ralph Wiley Rule, named after the late African-American writer. The Wiley Rule would be like the Rooney Rule in the NFL and would call for a diverse pool of candidates including men and women for each opening of the key positions included in the report.

When Garry Howard joined the former Milwaukee Journal as executive sports editor in 1994, he became one of the first African-Americans to lead a major newspaper sports section. Howard, now editor-in-chief of Sporting News, and John Cherwa, now an editor at the Los Angeles Times, convinced the APSE to undertake the study at its annual meeting in 2005. The outspoken Howard said of this year’s results, “They were exactly what I expected. I knew the numbers were awful.”

Howard, who was the first African-American president of APSE when he led the organization in 2009-10, called a proposed Wiley Rule a “necessary evil, of sorts.”

“It’s sad that it’s necessary,” he said, “but at this point, it is just that: Necessary.”

The APSE report card, which was requested by the APSE and conducted by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, covers more than 320 APSE-affiliated websites and newspapers in the U.S. and Canada and measures changes from the 2006 and 2008 reports.

We examine the key positions, including sports editors, assistant sports editors, columnists, reporters and copy editors/designers. People holding those positions determine what appears in the publications or online, shape opinions, and decide where the most important stories are placed.

For 2010-11, the APSE websites and newspapers improved with a grade of C+, up from a C, for racial hiring practices. However, they received a second consecutive F for gender hiring practices in the key positions covered.

Among sports leagues and colleges and their comparable surveys, none received less than a B for race or less than a C for gender hiring practices.

While there was some change in the five key positions for race, there was almost none for gender, which again had a failing grade in all five categories.

At a time when people of color dominate the percentages of players in the NBA, NFL, MLB and MLS, and in college football and basketball, these numbers in the media that cover them are so important. This is also true for college sports as well as in elite Olympic sports, where so many women are playing.

Most people in business agree that diversity is a business imperative. It is important to have voices from different backgrounds in the media, including the sports media.

The following shows the percentages of whites holding key positions, and the changes from 2008 to 2010:

  2008
2010
Sports editors  94%
97%
Asst. sports editors  89%
85%
Columnists  88%
86%
Reporters  87%
86%
Copy editors/
designers 
89%
90%


The following shows the percentages of men holding key positions, and the changes from 2008 to 2010:

  2008
2010
Sports editors  94%
94%
Asst. sports editors  90%
90%
Columnists  93%
90%
Reporters  91%
89%
Copy editors/
designers 
84%
84%

The worst news was perhaps that the percentage of sports editors who were women or people of color fell 2.3 percentage points from 11.7 percent in 2008 to 9.42 percent. White males in particular increased by 3.0 percentage points for sports editors.

“It’s just a case of hiring someone with whom you are comfortable,” Howard said. “And unfortunately for many of my fellow sports editors, that comfort factor doesn’t always include people of color. It must at this stage of the game.”

But there was good news with gains for women and people of color in the categories of assistant sports editors, columnists and reporters. For columnists, the percentage of women or people of color jumped 5.7 percentage points (from 17.5 percent to 23.2 percent).

ESPN’s record formed a substantial part of the totals for sports editors and columnists. ESPN has two African-American sports editors and 23 African-American men and women as columnists. That represented more than 20 percent of the sports editors and more than half of the 41 columnists of color at the largest media organizations. ESPN has 19 women columnists, which represented more than 70 percent of the 26 columnists who are women. Fourteen newspapers have a person of color and seven have a woman as a columnist, but none has more than one.

Cherwa, who served as the adviser for this study, said, “Certainly we were hoping for better numbers. … It’s disappointing to see only incremental change. But that doesn’t soften our resolve to continue to work as hard as we can to bring as wide an array of voices into our sports departments as we can.”

In addition to a Wiley Rule, the industry has to do more. Newspapers and websites have to broaden the searches for talented writers and editors so that they get the best qualified candidates into the interview process. They have to advertise more widely, including at the historically black colleges and universities, the Hispanic-serving colleges and universities, and women’s colleges. When a search committee is created, it needs to be diverse.

It is my hope that since APSE has looked inside itself, it will continue its commitment for change and adopt new tools to facilitate that change.

Richard E. Lapchick (rlapchick@bus.ucf.edu) is the chairman of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program and the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, which publishes all the racial and gender report cards.

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