Last week, l had the opportunity to read the cover story in the July 30-August 5, 2018 Sports Business Journal that purported to explore “in-depth” the challenges confronting the sports industry related to the issue of diversity and inclusion. The 21-page piece featured insights and perspectives from a wide range of sports industry “thought-leaders.”
Not one of them was a member of the HBCU athletic community.
It would be easy to call this glaring oversight on the part of the Sports Business Journal the worst of assumptions we could make about it; a race-based disregard for the contributions of 100+ colleges and universities to the billion-dollar fortunes of collegiate and professional sports. But that would be way too simple and overtly wrong. Sports in America do not exist without African American athletes or fans. The SBJ deserves the benefit of the doubt in believing that its editors and publishers understand that point well enough to determine that a piece on diversity was necessary, and would probably benefit its readers.
But how they missed black colleges is something just as dangerous – willful ignorance of the critical role HBCUs play to positively impact diversity and inclusion.
The SBJ’s complete omission of HBCUs in connection with this important discussion is, ironically enough, the most important takeaway from the article. It highlights the folly underlying the common refrain of some who pay “lip service” to inclusion and often feign or express frustration about the difficulty in finding “qualified” diverse candidates.
The reality is that sports organizations are simply not looking in the right places for that talent. Facts demand that we recognize that four historically black athletic conferences, the SWAC, MEAC, SIAC and CIAA, have for years have not only employed a disproportionate percentage of NCAA college sports administrators of color, but have also provided critical opportunities to an assortment of sports professionals who began their careers at HBCUs and have reached the highest ranks of their respective fields.
Hall of Fame coaches such as Vivian Stringer and John Chaney were both provided with opportunities early in their respective careers at HBCUs (Cheyney State). New York Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles’ first coaching job was at Morehouse College, under current Washington Redskins front office executive Doug Williams (whose first head coaching job was also at Morehouse).
And last year, Pep Hamilton, a Howard University graduate and current offensive coordinator at the University of Michigan under head coach Jim Harbaugh, became one of the highest paid offensive coordinators in the country when he signed a four-year $4.25m contract with the Wolverines. Coach Hamilton’s first coaching opportunity was provided by an HBCU as well (Howard University).
The numbers also corroborate the significant contributions of HBCUs. According to a NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Reports available on the NCAA website, although HBCUs represent less than 4% of the more than 1000 NCAA member schools, 22 of the 53 (42%) Black NCAA Division I Athletic Directors are employed by HBCUs, 14 of the 23 (61%) Black NCAA Division II Athletic Directors work at HBCUs, 21 of the 39 (54%) Black NCAA Division I Head Football Coaches work at HBCUs, and 22 of the 28 (80%) Black Division II Head Football Coaches work at HBCUs.
HBCUs have for years have shouldered the lion’s share of the responsibility with respect to providing employment opportunities to minority coaches, athletic directors, and other sports administrators. And HBCUs have not received their just due for their efforts in this regard.
If we just consider collegiate sports, where nearly 60% of the participants in the two revenue sports of football and basketball are African-American men, our obligation is clear to demand that media outlets, corporate partners and all other members of the sports universe lift up the work of HBCUs to advance equity on the field and in front offices.
The Sports Business Journal may have neglected to mention HBCUs in its profile of inclusion and equity of opportunity in sports, but we as HBCU stakeholders and advocates know better. And we should do more to hold systems of money, power, and influence accountable for giving HBCUs due recognition and resources for their leadership in the great American industry of sports and entertainment.