Sports reckoning over racism – Axios

Last year’s racial reckoning led to dramatic, visible changes in professional sports as teams ditched racist mascots while leagues pledged millions to support new social justice efforts and made improvements in hiring practices.

Why it matters: Some long-awaited changes have been realized, but both the sports world and society at large are still struggling to bridge the gap between cosmetic vs. real progress.

State of play: 2020’s upheaval has already led to tangible change. The next, and perhaps most important step, is ensuring that momentum doesn’t fade.

  • The NBA’s new Social Justice Coalition, comprising a 15-person board with representatives from the league, ownership, players and coaches, lobbied for police reform, criminal justice reform and voting rights bills before Congress.
  • Those efforts haven’t yet garnered bipartisan support, but as the coalition’s director James Cadogan tells Axios, that’s only part of their mission.
  • “Our mission is to raise awareness, educate and take meaningful action,” says Cadogan. “Supporting those bills is part of that meaningful action, but … I think our superpower, if we have one, is bringing more eyeballs onto issues and more people into consistent participation.”

MLB committed up to $150 million over the next decade to the Players Alliance, aiding diversity initiatives including increasing participation among Black youth, providing professional development for Black people across all levels of baseball, and celebrating Black baseball history and culture.

  • MLB also made the long-overdue decision to elevate the historical Negro Leagues to major league status, and just this week the first Negro Leaguers since 2006 were elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • Native American mascots in Washington and Cleveland were ditched, and though the Braves’ tomahawk chop remains, there is a growing conversation regarding its appropriateness.

Yes, but: Racism against athletes persists. Two months after winning Olympic gold, gymnastics breakout star Suni Lee was pepper sprayed and called slurs one night in Los Angeles by passengers in a passing car while she waited for a ride.

Diversity in hiring is improving, though some leagues are far ahead of others, and league offices tend to outpace their team-level counterparts.

  • The WNBA continues to be the standard-bearer, earning an “A+” from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s (TIDES) annual hiring report cards.
  • The NBA, with an “A,” isn’t far behind. Its 16 head coaches of color this year matches an all-time high, while its 12 general managers and 52.7% of assistant coaches of color are both record highs.
  • But top management in other leagues still remains predominantly white. Just 4 of 30 MLB general managers, 4 of 32 NFL head coaches and 4 of 27 MLS team presidents or CEOs are people of color.

The bottom line: 2020’s racial reckoning helped lay the groundwork for change decades in the making. Work still remains, but “there are clear signs that things are moving in the right direction for racial equality across sport,” TIDES director Richard Lapchick tells Axios.

Go deeper: “The Day Sports Stood Still” trailer (YouTube)