In the 33 years since they began integrating the major American professional sports, black players have become a dominant force in basketball and are prominent in baseball and football out of proportion to their numbers.
Three-fourts of the players in the National Basketball Association are black, and in pro football and major league baseball, where the ratios are one in three and one in five, it is impossible to draw up a decent all-star team that is not disproportionately black.
But that dominance does not extend beyond the sidelines. The front offices of professional sports, where policy fortunes of players and the sports themselves are determined, remain overwhelmingly white.
Two blacks serve as both coach and general manager for their respective pro basketball teams and the most powerful black league official is not the NBA. The National Football League has never had black coach or general manager. Major league baseball, which has had two black managers has none now. [Neither professional hockey nor pro soccer has significant numbers of blacks playing or managing.]
The front offices of each sport have different views on the subject. Baseball continues to close it eyes to the situation and says it is doing all it can and need to do.
"We think we have a good number of Blacks in management roles," said Commissioner Bownie Kuhn, "but we are always looking for the opportunity to bring more in and we will continue to do so."
Kuhn would not say any more on the subject, but his information director Bob Wirz, added, "The apparent lack of blacks would be a concern to us if there were a lot of qualified people seeking the jobs and not getting them, but there just aren't an awful lot of blacks coming forward for the jobs.
"The opportunities are there. People just need to come forward and show interest."
National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle said he is concerned about the lack of black executives in his sport and is encouraging the league's owners to hire more blacks in management positions.
In the NBA, "it doesn't require any pressure or energy to get our owners to hire blacks because it's a natural progression," said Commissioner Larry O'brien. "Across the board, NBA owners are open minded and liberal on racial questions."
Referees, Officials In Pro Leagues
BLACK REFEREES, UMPIRES AND OFFICIALS NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
[27 Officials] Jim Capers, Lee Jones, Hugh Evans, Leroy Alexander, Tommy Wood.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
[100 Officials] Bob Beeks, Frank Glover, Nathan Jones, Al Jury, Leo Miles, Willie Spencer Burl Toler, John Everett, [will be rookie next season]
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL AMERICAN LEAGUE [32 Umpires]
NATIONAL LEAGUE [29 Umpires]
Basketball is the only professional sport in America other than boxing where most performers are black. In the 29 years since Chuck Cooper became a Boston Celtic and the first black player in the NBA, the game has become progressively black. Last season, 72 percent of the players were black and blacks have progressed further off the court in basketball than in any other major sport.
Simon Gourdine, deputy commissioner of the NBA and its chief operating officer, is the highest ranking and most influential black man in sports in America.
"There was a subconscious awareness that having a black in the NBA office was the smart thing to do," said Gourdine, who has been with the league as assistant to former commissioner Walter Kennedy.
Gourdine, a lawyer, was "doing 80 percent legal work" for the league when he started. Now he does only about 20 percent legal work and is the NBA's chief operating officer.
Gourdine would like to see other blacks in decision-making jobs.
"I want to see real dispersion in other areas," he said. "I want to dispel the myth that blacks can do nothing but play basketball. I want to see black referees, black marketing directors, black coaches and general managers and black public relations people.
"We'll always have our great basketball players, no doubt, but we have to now broaden into other areas."
NBA team often ask Gourdine to suggest names of blacks qualified for front-office jobs. But he feels he must play a passive role as job-broker. He gives adive if it is asked for, but he does not try to force owners into hiring blacks.
In the 22-team league, Lenny Wilkens of the world champion Seattle Supersonics and Al Attles of the Golden State Warriors are men with clout. Wilkens is coach and director of player personnel and Attles is coach and general manager.
"Both Lenny and Al are men of extreme talent and very acceptable to Whites," said Gourdine. "You couldn't find any better people to be pathfinders. Both of them are good teachers and know how to motivate people. These two types are what America is looking for."
Wilkens is a protege of Seattle owner Sam Schulman, one of the most progressive owners in sports. He hired and fired Bill Russell as coach and general manager and he dismissed Bob Hopkins and Wilkens from coaching jobs. He later rehired Wilkens. Most owners haven't even hired one black coach and he's already fired three.
"Race is a bunch of hogwash," Schulman said. "If a man can do the job, he can do the job. I don't need or want recognition for hiring blacks, but I do want recognition for hiring talent.
"I felt at the time I hired Bill Russel and Lenny Wilkens that they were the most qualified people I could get. When I hired Russell, our team was in despair and we needed a personality. He had charisma and he was what I felt we needed.
"I don't think I consciously think of a person's color when it comes to business. For the best interest of the league, I don't think color should enter into anything. I know that on my team I want the best guys I can bet, the best players, the best general manager, the best coach and the best assistant coach. If they happen to be black, fine."
Bernie Bickerstaff of the Washington Bullets and K.C. Jones of the Boston Celtics [a former Bullet head coach] are the NBA's only black assistant coaches.
Percentages of Blacks Playing Pro Sports (TABLE) sport(COLUMN)Year of First(COLUMN)Percent of Black (COLUMN)Black Players(COLUMN)Players Today National Football League(COLUMN)1946(COLUMN)34 percent Major League Baseball [modern](COLUMN)1947(COLUMN)20 percent 1national Basketball Assoociation(COLUMN)1950(COLUMN)72 percent(END TABLE)
Three blacks -- Elgin Baylor at New Orleans, Tom Sanders of Boston and Willis Reed in New York -- were fired from head coaching jobs last season.
"The word around the NBA is that Bickerstaff should be a head coach. He agrees, but is wondering when the offers will start coming in.
"I think the only thing that keeps me together is my age," Bickerstaff said. "I've gotten six years of experience in this league and I'm only 35. I started at the top and I've learned a lot of things. All I can do is sit back and wait. I don't know why I haven't been offered a head job, but I'm not going to make waves. I'm just going to do my thing on the basketball court and people will have to recognize my achievements.
"If I never become coach I'll know it wasn't because I couldn't do the job. Mentally I can deal with that."
Bullet owner Abe Pollin speaks well of f Bickerstaff. "I really think Bernie is a fine human being and there is no question that he is head coaching material," Pollin said. "The opportunity just has to come along.I would hate to lose him, but I would ecourgae him if he could get a head caching job. I know that's what he wants and I know he would do good at it."
Gourdine described what it takes for a black to get a top managerial job.
"You have to get yourself in a position to be a coach or a general manager or whatever," he said. "It starts with getting your foot in the door.
"You have to climb the ladder. You've got to come in at the bottom a lot of times and work your way up through the organization."
Boby Mitchell of the Washington Redskins is a primary example of a black who took that approach.
In 1962, he and Ron Hatcher became the first blacks ever to play for the Redskins. Mitchell worked his way up from player to scout to the front office.
He is now the executive assistant to team president Edward Bennett Williams and is considered to be the NFL's most powerful black.
"I started from the range bottom and rose through the organization," Mitchell said. "You've got to pay your dues and perservere."
There are other blacks with power in the NFL.
Tank Younger is assistant general manager of the Sam Diego Chargers and Frank Gilliam is the director of player personnel for the Minnesota Vikings.
Sources in the NFL say those three have a real say in what goes on in their respective organizations.
Just below them are Bill Nunn, assistant personnel director of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jackie Graves, assistant personnel director of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Buddy Yound works in Commissioner Pete Rozelle's office in player relations.
Titles don't means anythings," Mitchell said, "because you never know who is really doing the work, but the ones of use who are in the top positions now have come a long way and we are still fighting for acceptance.
"You know something funny? I think the number of blacks [in front office jobs] has diminished over the years. I means there are fewer scouts and fewer assistant coaches, so you might say we have progressed. But in other ways we have progressed because those of us working aren't low man on the totem pole."
In addition to Mitchell, the Redskins have two other blacks in off-the-field positions. Dickie Daniels heads college scouring and Charlie Taylor, former All-Pro wide receiver, is a scout.
"I think it behooves management to push hard to get hard to get outstanding black athletes into management position," Williams said. "We've tried to do it with the Redskins and we've succeeded. Bobby has one of the top jobs in our organization and Dickie is one of the top scouts in football. We also have Charley Taylor and we're teaching him and he has become a real front office assets."
Williams said that it bothers him when other owners say that can't find qualified blacks for managerial positions.
"You have to make an effort in that direction," he said. "It's outrageous to say that with all the black athletes in this country, there aren't any with beat that is to find people with the tallent and then advance them. That would end the "blackout.'
"You're not going to find these people by accident. You have to go out and work to find them, otherwise you disriminatory practice."
Rozelle agrees, in prnicple, with Williams.
"I've talked about it in private and in legal meeting and I would urge owners to consider hiring more blacks," he said. "It would both improve the league and help our image."
Baseball is historically the most conservative of the three major sports in this country when it comes to hiring and promoting black to managerial and other off-the-field positions.
Frank Robinson now a coach with the Baltimore Orioles, was the first black manager in the major leagues, 2 1/2 seasons from 1975-77. Larry Doby managed the Chicago White Sox part of last season and is now a batting instructor for the White Sox.
Robinson is waiting to be offered another managerial job.
"I think I deserve it," he said. "All I can do is wait."
The only black basketball field manager on any level right now is Jonny Lewis of Gastonia, the St. Louis Cardinals' Class A Affiliate in the Western Carolinas League.
The highest ranking black in baseball is Hank Aaron, director of minor league personnel for the Atlanta Braves. His brother, Tommy, is the Braves' first base coach and has managed in both AA and AAA ball in the Braves' organization.
Bill Lucas of the Braves was baseball's highest-ranking black when he died last month. He was vice president and director of player personnel.
Braves' owner Ted Turner is the club's president and general manager, but Lucas made the decisions on trades, drafting of players and salary negotiations. Turner also owns the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA.
"I have alway wanted qualified people." Turner said. "Being black or not being black has nothing to do with it."
Whether the sport is football, baseketball or baseball, blacks have not made the strides off the court or playing field as they have on it.
"But it's only a matter of time," Gourdine said. "They can't keep blacks out forever."
Blacks in Pro Sports Executive Positions
NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION (TABLE) Name(COLUMN)Title(COLUMN)Duties Simon Gourdine(COLUMN)Deputy commissioner(COLUMN)Chief operating (COLUMN)(COLUMN)office of league. CecilWatkins(COLUMN)Assistant supervisor(COLUMN)Picks, assigns (COLUMN)of officials(COLUMN)and rates officials. (END TABLE)(TABLE) (COLUMN)NBA Teams(COLUMN) Lenny Wilkens,(COLUMN)Coach/director of(COLUMN)Acquiring players Seattle(COLUMN)player personnel(COLUMN) #lAl Attles, Coach/general(COLUMN)Acquiring players Golden State(COLUMN)manager(COLUMN) (END TABLE)(TABLE) NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE(COLUMN) Buddy Young(COLUMN)Assistant to(COLUMN)Player relations (COLUMN)commissioner(COLUMN) (END TABLE)(TABLE) (COLUMN)NFL Teams(COLUMN) Bobby Mitchell,(COLUMN)Executive assistant(COLUMN)Oversees daily Washington(COLUMN)to the president(COLUMN)operations of team Paul [Tank] Younger,(COLUMN)Assistant general(COLUMN)Acquiring and San Diego(COLUMN)manager(COLUMN)developing players Frank Gilliam,(COLUMN)Director of(COLUMN)Acquiring and Minnesota(COLUMN)player personnel(COLUMN)developing players Jackie Graves,(COLUMN)Assistant director(COLUMN)Acquiring and Philadelphia(COLUMN)of player personnel(COLUMN)developing players Bill Nunn,(COLUMN)Assistant director(COLUMN)Acquiring and Pittsburgh(COLUMN)of player personnel(COLUMN)developing players (END TABLE)(TABLE) MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL(COLUMN) Monte Irvin(COLUMN)Assistant to(COLUMN)Public relations (COLUMN)commissioner(COLUMN) Emmett Ashford(COLUMN)Assistant to(COLUMN)Public relations (COLUMN)commissioner(COLUMN) (END TABLE)(TABLE) (COLUMN)National League(COLUMN) Hank Aaron,(COLUMN)Director of(COLUMN)Acquiring and Atlanta(COLUMN)minor league(COLUMN)developing players (COLUMN)personnel(COLUMN) Johnny Lewis,(COLUMN)Managing of Gastonia(COLUMN) St. Louis(COLUMN)in Western Carolinas(COLUMN)Runs team (COLUMN)League, Class A(COLUMN) (END TABLE)(TABLE) (COLUMN)American League(COLUMN) None(COLUMN)(COLUMN) (END TABLE) CAPTION: (TABLE) Illustration, no caption, By Alice Kresse -- The Washington Post; Picture 1, Lenny Wilkens, left AP; Picture 2, and Al Attles led teams to National Basketball Association titles. By Richard Darcey -- The Washington Post (END TABLE)