Minority hiring of coaches and front office personnel in professional sports has improved only slightly in the last year, with the NBA showing the most improvement and baseball the least.
"On the field we're looking at the most integrated workplace in this country, but off the field, except for the NBA, we see what is more representative in America." said Richard Lapchick, whose Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University issued its fourth annual "racial report card" on Thursday.The report, drawn from team rosters of personnel on and off the field, gave the NBA an overall A and praise for filling top management positions with minorities.
The NFL scored a B for general improvements in racial equality. But despite a B+ for advances in minority coaching staffs, baseball drew an overall C and another year of criticism for little progress.
The grade, down from last year's C+, marked the first time a league has seen grades fall. Baseball has been under fire over management hiring practices since 1987, when then-Los Angeles Dodger executive Al Campanis told a television interviewer blacks didn't have the "necessities" to be in management.
"It's long been the dream, because of the concept of teamwork, that sports would pioneer breaking down the racial barriers in society," Lapchick said. "That was the dream when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. The terrible fact is they haven't made that much progress since then."
A spokesman for baseball disputed the findings.
"In 1987, our front offices had 2 percent minority employment. This year it was 17 percent," said Richard Levin, executive director of public relations. "I don't think there are any industries in this country that have made an improvement like that."
Baseball, in fact, made rapid improvement right after the Campanis incident, going from 2 percent front office minority employment in 1987 to 16 percent in 1991. But since 1991, minority employment in baseball management, administrative and front office positions has increased only from 16 to 17 percent.
Lapchick blames baseball's slowed progress on the lack of a commissioner.
"When David Stern took over at the NBA, he set a tone. It is directly attributable to Paul Tagliabue that the NFL has surpassed Major League Baseball in minority hiring," he said. "Fay Vincent was just getting a start, but since he's left, there has been no leadership."
Baseball was also the only sport showing a majority of white participants.
White players held a 67 percent majority in baseball; 16 percent were black and another 16 percent were classified as Latin. The figures represent a continuation in a decade-long decline of blacks in baseball; in the early 1980s, 24 percent of major league ballplayers were black.
Lapchick attributed the continuing slump to a decline in inner city baseball programs.
"In urban America there has been a lack of playing fields for some time," he said.
Seventy-seven percent of players on this year's NBA rosters were blacks; blacks accounted 68 percent of the players in the NFL.
Basketball and baseball got good marks for hiring minority coaches. By the season's end, seven out of the 27 NBA teams had black head coaches, up from just two the previous season and six in the 1990-91 season. Blacks accounted for 27 percent of the assistant coaching jobs, slightly down from the previous season's 33 percent.
Baseball saw a doubling of minority managers at the start of this season with Dusty Baker of the San Francisco Giants and Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies joining Cito Gaston of Toronto and Hal McRae of Kansas City as the blacks among the 28 baseball managers.
And Montreal's Felipe Alou was joined by Tony Perez at Cincinnati as the only Latin managers. Perez was fired by the Reds after only 44 games.
Twenty percent of baseball's assistant coaches were minorities.
In the NFL, Art Shell of the Los Angeles Raiders and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings remain the only two black head coaches in NFL history. Tom Flores, a Latin, heads the Seattle Seahawks as head coach and general manager.
Twenty percent of NFL assistant coaches are minorities, but there were only four blacks among the league's 44 offensive and defensive coordinators - a traditional stepping stone to head coaching jobs.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, quoted in the report, said it was hard to find qualified coaches because of the small number of minority coaches at the college level.
"The pool from which coaches are drawn is not players but other coaches," he said.
The lowest marks for all sports were in administration.
The NBA was an exception with five minority vice presidents and three female vice presidents. Nearly 24 percent of all management positions in the league's offices were held by minorities; 44 percent of all managers were women.
The NFL's front office has minorities in 23 percent of its management positions; 22 percent of all managers were women.
In baseball, National League president Bill White remains the highest ranking minority in any of the three sports. But the report noted a retrenchment in minority hiring following the dismissal of commissioner Fay Vincent.
Since Vincent left, the report said the number of blacks in the commissioner's office dropped from 18 percent to 15 percent and Latins dropped a point to 9 percent.
The report card found the numbers even more dismal at the club level. The NBA again was the exception: five teams are led by black general managers; eight teams have minority vice presidents.
No NFL or baseball franchise has ever had a black general manager.
The NBA also led in terms of minority employment at the individual franchises. Twelve percent of front office employees were black, 3 percent were Latin and 1 percent were Asian. NFL front offices had 6 percent black employees, 3 percent Latin and 1 percent Asian.
Total figures for baseball's franchise appeared to be better: 9 percent black, 6 percent Latin and 2 percent Asian.