DISCRIMINATION, bias, AND LACK OF DIVERSITY in sports
AGony in the shadows of victory©
- Not Being Female Enough In Sports: Who Should Decide? Baseball's Racial and Ethnic Shortcomings
- Gender Discrimination in Sports Reasonable Accommodations for Athletes with Disabilities
- "Redskins" Trademark May Not Be Illegal, But It Is Wrong
Although baseball became selectively integrated before buses, bathrooms, and lunch counters in the South, the overall diversity and inclusion scorecards of our most popular spectators with regard to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, mental and physical disability, and sexual orientation has been mixed at best, and very poor much of the time. Promoting diversity and inclusion, especially in our professional leagues, has been a relatively low priority. Intercollegiate sports, because they are influenced by campus communities, have fared somewhat better in this regard, but they continue to manifest substantial problems, particularly in athletic departments than run super-conference football and basketball programs.
At the same time, there have been significant variations from sport to sport and cartel to cartel with respect to the types of discrimination and diversity shortcomings that have been most important. As compared to popular professional sports, intercollegiate athletics have been influenced—typically in positive ways—by more inclusive campus attitudes and policies towards diversity, particularly involving gender under Title IX. The most prominent gender problems—beyond sexual and domestic violence—have been residual sexist attitudes and backlash after sports for men have been curtailed or eliminated to allow women’s programs to flourish. Also, women have been given very few opportunities to do play-by-play of major collegiate sports. The first female to ever to do a television broadcast of a March Madness game will be Debbie Antonelli, who finally is being allowed to hold the "mike," but apparently only for the opening two rounds.
Discrimination based on mental and physical disability continues to be widespread in almost all sports, whereas discrimination based on sexual orientation has been much more pronounced in men’s programs where homophobia and bullying are still commonplace. In addition, there have been major differences with respect to the racial and ethnic make-ups of the athletes in our major spectator sports, both professionally and at the collegiate levels. Basketball, football, and track, for example, have a disproportionately high percentage of African-American athletes, whereas hockey, tennis, lacrosse, golf, soccer, swimming, and baseball have disproportionately low percentages. Hispanic athletes have made substantial inroads in American baseball and soccer, but not American sports generally. Hockey, tennis, golf, lacrosse, squash, fencing, swimming, and other sports that gained their prominence in the United States in “prep schools” and country clubs still tend to be overwhelmingly white and bastions of privilege. Moreover, the lack of diversity in coaching, management, and ownership of our most popular sports continues to be a national embarrassment.
The most publicized problems and controversies involving discrimination and lack of diversity in athletics, however, are not necessarily the worst. Race involving African-Americans has garnered most of the headlines due in large part to our unforgivable history of slavery, but discrimination in male sports based on ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual preference, and mental and physical disability are more readily tolerated. In part, this is due to the fact that the media coverage of these diversity issues tend to be based on a sports popularity. As a consequence, in basketball and football where players are predominantly African-American there tends to be less overt insensitivity than in the past when dealing with racial controversies, such as black football players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial insensitivity and racism in law enforcement. Comparable restraint, however, was not exercised when American women’s soccer star, Megan Rapino, knelt during the National Anthem to protest discrimination based on sexual orientation. As part of the immediate negative reaction against her protest, former Washington Spirit captain and national team member, Allie Krieger, was unceremoniously traded a few weeks after having publicly supported Rapino’s actions.
That does not mean NFL owners were not seething in private. They just understood that their reactions had to be more nuanced when the protest involved race. Once Colin Kaepernick, who started this nationwide protest, became a free agent quarterback in March, NFL owners made their views known by doing nothing. Despite a well-known shortage of NFL-ready athletes at this vital position and many obvious vacancies--plus a promise by Kaepernick not to kneel during the National Anthem anymore-- the once heralded quarterback was passed over by every team in the league.
Diversity and inclusion discussions in sports reflect the reality that in our society discrimination based on race garners the lion’s share of the attention. Discrimination based on ethnicity has been viewed as less important in sports, unless it has been directly tied to race, in which case its prominence has been enhanced. In addition, gender discrimination is a primary focus in our society, but too often that momentum, even after the passage of Title IX, has not been sustained in male-dominated sports, especially in locker and board rooms. Diversity based on either sexual orientation or disability has been controversial and slow, most notably in America’s most popular team sports that are dominated by men.
Yet, for all the insensitivity found in our major sports leagues and programs towards issues of diversity, inclusion, and discrimination, shockingly they tend to fall short of the worst problems that still characterize international sports under the lax guidance of FIFA and the IOC, particularly with regard to issues of race and ethnicity, but also LGBTQ as the Sochi Olympics demonstrated. Moreover, the Special Olympics, for all its good intentions and results, continues to implicitly breathe life into the anachronistic and demeaning concept of separate but equal, while a deaf and legally blind swimmer at Gallaudet University still gets disqualified from races because collegiate organizers and the NCAA do not require that a reasonably cheap starting system be employed, which would allow her to compete on equal terms with other swimmers.