What a disgrace, those of us in sports journalism protested to you in the immediate wake of the news Tuesday that Fredi Gonzalez was fired as Atlanta Braves skipper. How can Major League Baseball, we demanded, look itself in the mirror in 2016 with Gonzalez having been the lone Latin manager in a game where more than a quarter of the players are of Spanish-speaking origin?
How preposterous are such optics in a game where the biggest story this week, and just about any week, includes Latino stars? Texas infielder Rougned Odor, a Venezuelan, was suspended eight games Tuesday for scoring a TKO of Toronto’s Jose Bautista, a Dominican, in a game last weekend. Bautista was sat down one game.
But let me tell you that those of us in sports journalism know what we’re talking about. Because our record at reflecting the increasingly diverse United States is even worse than our one-time national pastime’s. We aren’t being audacious. We are marvelously qualified to call a kettle black because, well, we’re a black kettle, too.
Indeed, a few days before baseball last month kicked off its annual self-indulgence party called Jackie Robinson Day — when it pats itself on the back for being some sort of vanguard human rights organization after having allowed Robinson to re-integrate its diamonds following a 60-year banning — a report on the game’s racial hiring practices awarded it an overall grade of B.
“The dearth of managers of color in MLB has been a growing concern in the past few years,” explained Richard Lapchick, who authors the study every year as director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, in April. “The 2016 Major League Baseball season began with only three managers of color, seven below the high of 10 managers of color reached in both 2002 and 2009. The position of general manager is another area of concern; this category remained the same in 2016 with only four people of color serving as general managers.”
But Lapchick’s most recent bi-annual report on more than 100 newspaper sports sections and sports websites released just about a year ago gave the sports journalism industry a combined grade of D. It was the lowest grade compared to the sports he tracks, which, in addition to baseball, includes the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA and college athletics.
“The ongoing lack of improvement continues to be both puzzling and unsettling,” John Cherwa, deputy sports editor at the Los Angeles Times, said in June 2015. “You have to ask, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ I wish I knew the answer. It’s certainly not because we don’t care.”
Baseball would tell you the same thing. Well before Bud Selig retired as baseball commissioner, he introduced what is known as the Selig Rule. Like the Rooney Rule in the NFL, the Selig Rule required each club to consider, though not interview, people of color for executive openings as well as managerial and director openings, like head of scouting, for example. When the rule was adopted in 1999, barely 3 percent of baseball’s front-office employees were of color or female. But it’s had virtually no impact on the top jobs of general managers and the most visible jobs in the game, those of field managers.
Just before this season commenced, baseball took another stab at its issue. It poached one of the few assistant general managers of color, Tyrone Brooks, a black Baltimore-area native and Maryland graduate, from his perch as Pittsburgh’s assistant GM after he was turned down by Milwaukee for its general manager opening. Baseball installed Brooks in a new position as head of something it titled the Diversity Pipeline Program. It is a pipeline that certainly isn’t clogged.
Here’s a juxtaposition for you: 16 Latin-born players made baseball’s All-Star Game last season, which is six more Latinos than have become managers in the 100-plus-year history of the major leagues.
A former student of mine, Aaron Kasinitz, illustrated that embarrassing absurdity in what turned out to be a prescient piece earlier this year for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., on the scarcity of Latino baseball managers.
I asked Kasinitz what the makeup of the sports department of his first job out of college looked like. He checked with his bosses. They told him 8.3 percent of his editors and fellow sports reporters were of color.
But we the sports media must poke our collective finger at baseball this week for its diversity problems. In baseball’s corporate office, 10 percent of its professional employees are black, 11.8 percent are Latino, 4.6 percent are Asian and 2.3 percent are mixed race and Native American, according to Lapchick’s report. In total, Lapchick reported that people of color make up 28.9 percent of baseball’s executive office. Women, he found, comprise 28.9 percent of the front office, too.
How do we in the sports news media compare? In Lapchick’s report last year, which complied data from 2014, he found 16 people of color who were sports editors at the largest newspapers and websites. But if not for ESPN — which recently hired the first black managing editor from The Post, Kevin Merida, as editor-in-chief of its new sports, race and culture site, The Undefeated — we the sports media would more resemble a board meeting at our favorite good ol’ boy sports institution, Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. Lapchick reported that seven editors of color worked for ESPN, including two of six black male sports editors and three of six Latino sports editors. He counted one Latina sports editor, at ESPN, and one Asian sports editor, at ESPN.
ESPN employed the only Latina sports editor and the only Asian sports editor. Take ESPN out of the count and Lapchick said the percentage of sports editors of color would drop almost by half, from 11.7 percent to 6.9 percent.
But let us in the sports media not concern ourselves with that right now. After all, had the Lerners not hired the runner-up for their Nationals’ managerial opening last offseason, Dusty Baker, baseball would be without a black skipper, too. Instead, also including mixed-race Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts, it’s back in good company. Since Lapchick’s last report, there are just four major newspapers with black sports editors, too.
Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and visiting professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, writes sports commentary for The Post.