Sidelined: How diversity in Canada’s sports leadership falls short

Good investigative reporting and data analysis:

For 14 years Clayton Pottinger had tremendous success as a basketball coach, his teams winning nearly 80 per cent of their games.

But an opportunity to coach at the next level never came.

As a Black head coach, he often wondered why.

“I don’t know a 100 per cent the reasons behind it. I don’t know that it was race related but I don’t discount that,” Pottinger told CBC Sports. “I was interviewed for three positions but overlooked — not even granted an interview dozens of times. It got to the point where I didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Pottinger’s story may sound like a tale often told south of the border, but his is a Canadian story.

Last March, he finally broke through and landed his first job at the Canadian university level when UBC-Okanagan named him head coach of its men’s basketball team.

Pottinger, 49, joined a small group of Black coaches who have reached the highest leadership positions in Canadian university sports.

For decades, North American professional sports leagues have been castigated for the dearth of Black and people of colour employed in key leadership and coaching positions.

An investigation by CBC Sports reveals that the issue is prevalent across Canadian sports.

A visual audit conducted by CBC Sports examined hundreds of key positions at all 56 Canadian universities that compete under the umbrella of national governing body U Sports, including the school’s athletic director and head coach of football, men’s and women’s basketball, hockey and soccer, and track.

Of the nearly 400 positions examined, only about 10 per cent were held by Black, Indigenous or persons of colour (BIPOC). Only one of the 56 schools has a non-white athletic director.

“You could go to any website at any university and you’d see one of the five principles or objectives is diversity and inclusion, yet you see the numbers in our studies, you see the [CBC’s] numbers,” said Dr. Richard Lapchick, founder and director of the Institute For Diversity and Ethics and Sport. The institute, based at the University of Central Florida, was the first to begin compiling racial breakdowns of hiring practices in the United States.

Lapchick said filling athletic leadership positions on North American college campuses is not always a result of overt racism, but rather a persistent old boys’ network.

“If you have a white athletic director and a white [university] president and they’re making the key hires in your athletic department, the people they know are more than likely to be white,” Lapchick said. “So they’re going to turn to them in that selection process as opposed to who [else] might be out there.”

The recent killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May has refocused the lens on racial inequality in everyday North American life. Hundreds of thousands of people have filled city streets demanding an end to systemic racism.

Many companies and organizations, including the CBC, have been forced to acknowledge both a lack of diversity among senior leadership, while addressing systemic racism in the way they conduct business both internally and externally.

The world of sports has not escaped this scrutiny.

Leagues condemn racism

In wake of Floyd’s death, professional leagues across North America issued statements condemning racism and promised to do better. Players demanded change. Leagues like the NFL, where 70 per cent of the players are Black or persons of colour, promised more would be done to reflect that in its coaching staffs and leadership. And after years discouraging outward signs of protest, like kneeling during the U.S. national anthem, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came full circle and encouraged players to express themselves.

In Canada, the recently hired Pottinger says there is still a long way to go. UBC-Okanagan is one of only three universities in Canada to employ both a Black men’s and women’s head coach. He points to an undercurrent of bias when it comes to how leadership positions are filled.

“People of colour aren’t necessarily looked at as people with those abilities. We can shoot hoops, we can make baskets, we can make defensive plays,” Pottinger said. “But if you ask us to lead a team, then I think there’s always some question marks around whether or not you can do it.”

CBC Sports presented its findings to officials at U Sports and the four conferences that govern Canada’s university sports system.

None of the groups rejected or disputed the findings. But at the same time, it appears little has been done to formally track who is being hired and why.

The NCAA, governing body of college sports in the U.S., does maintain a database that tracks demographics for student-athletes, coaches and administrators. U Sports does not.

Most of the responses pointed to strides made in the area of gender equity but acknowledged little has been done to promote and encourage more BIPOC candidates and hirings.

Everyone involved in the upper reaches of Canadian university sport acknowledged there’s work to do when it comes to diversity in leadership positions.

At the same time, U Sports officials contend that, for the most part, they are powerless to change things.

“One of our key principles is institutional freedom and as such hiring is based on member universities’ human resource policies in compliance with provincial labour laws,” the organization said in its statement.

Balancing act

Atlantic University Sport (AUS) executive director Phil Currie called it a balancing act.

“The hiring of athletics directors or sport coaches/assistant coaches is done under the policies and practices of our member institutions and as such the AUS has no direct control of that process,” said Currie, who oversees athletics in the Atlantic provinces.

“CBC’s summary on the number of BIPOC head coaches demonstrates that, and we acknowledge that those numbers are not where they need to be,” he said.

The lack of diversity in leadership is equally stark among Canada’s key Olympic institutions. CBC Sports looked at the board of directors at the Canadian Olympic Committee and seven among the country’s largest national sport organizations: swimming, athletics, hockey, skating, basketball, volleyball and soccer.

Across them, around 100 board members are tasked with representing thousands of athletes. Only seven of these key positions are held by BIPOC. For example, the COC’s 17-member board is composed of 16 white directors and only one BIPOC.

“Our reflection following the events of the past month has reinforced that while we have made important strides in diversity and inclusion, we need to do more,” the COC said in a statement to CBC Sports.

“Though our board of directors reflects diversity in a number of important measures, including gender, LGBTQ+, language, etc., there’s no denying that we have considerable work to do in addressing BIPOC diversity on our board.”

The COC vowed to change the makeup of its board by instituting a number of measures, including no longer simply relying on a public call for board nominations.

Across the board, national sports organizations contacted by CBC Sports acknowledge major shortcomings in the racial makeup of their key leadership positions.

Athletics Canada said it’s “probably the most inclusive sport in Canada in terms of racialized participation,” but said its board must “better represent what the sport looks like on the field of play.”

Basketball Canada also acknowledged a large gap between players and decision makers.

“Our Canadian national basketball teams are some of the most ethnically diverse in our country. However, we acknowledge that, off the court, our organization still has some work to do at a leadership level,” it said in a statement.

For some, change has been elusive. Hockey Canada said it’s been “working at various stages over the past few years to address areas of diversity,” but its 11-member board was comprised of 11 white males as of July 1.

CBC Sports also looked into 500 leadership positions across professional ranks and found that for the most part, they mirror the above findings.

CBC Sports compiled data that included team ownership, team president, general manager and head coach across seven major leagues: NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, CFL, WNBA and the NWSL.

Only the NBA, where more than 80 per cent of players are BIPOC, according to research by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, approached close to 25 per cent of leadership positions filled by people who look like the majority of its athletes.

In MLB, where 41 per cent of players are BIPOC, only seven of 100 leadership positions looked at are filled by people of colour.

In the CFL, only about 10 per cent of the league’s key leadership positions are filled by people who aren’t white, a sharp departure from the league’s on-field racial makeup.

One of the league’s two Black head coaches is former quarterback Khari Jones, who has been head coach in Montreal since June 2019.

After a stellar career in the CFL, he worked as assistant coach for a decade in Hamilton, B.C and Saskatchewan.

Jones said he doubted whether he would ever be a head coach.

“You see so many African-American people play the game but not having the chance to coach and have lead roles,” he told CBC Sports. “It’s never deterred me. It’s just a sad thing, even when I knew I wanted to get into coaching and I knew my goal was to be a head coach.”

Jones says until more BIPOC people own teams or fill leadership roles with authority to hire, change will be difficult.

“All the owners are white, so you tend to go that route when hiring,” Jones said.

“It becomes really disheartening when you don’t think you have a real chance, or you don’t have an opportunity to get a job that other people seem to be getting.”

Source: Sidelined: How diversity in Canada’s sports leadership falls short

The Minority-Majority Shift. Two Decades That Will Change America. For Sports Marketing, It’s Game On.

The sports perspective (Punjabi enthusiasm for hockey appears to the the exception – Indian Immigrants Are Saving Canadian Hockey):

For this analysis, I used data from Simmons, looking at the sports preferences of consumers under 25 years old, broken down by ethnicity (non-Hispanic White, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian American respondents).

One of the reasons why I decided to start this series of articles with sports is because of the importance that sports marketing has as a brand/business-building tool for brands to connect with consumers, as well as the fact that sports have significant power to shape a society’s culture.

When it comes to the relationship between sports preference and demographics in America, the picture is mixed. While there are some noticeable differences in preferences by different ethnic groups, there are also commonalities. These differences and commonalities will be felt in the next decades, since the impact of the choices demonstrated by minority consumers will increase exponentially, mainly from Hispanic and Asian-American consumers, given their fast population growth. In contrast, the influence of non-Hispanic White consumers may be reduced over time.

It’s a Soccer World

Soccer has significant growth potential in the years ahead. Already the favorite among Hispanic-Americans, soccer has a robust preference among Asian-American fans as well, and it has been growing amongst non-Hispanic White fans too.

One challenge facing soccer is that differently from the major sports leagues in America, their fans are spread among different franchises, including MLS, Mexican Futbol League and, growing in popularity, the European National leagues (mainly the ones from England, Spain, Italy, and Germany) as well as Europe’s Champions League, making it harder to reach the whole spectrum of soccer fans with one sponsorship program, but also offers a diverse set of options for marketers to align with.

I spoke with one of the authorities when it comes to sports marketing, Ricardo Fort, Coke’s Head of Global Sponsorships, who is directly involved with the trends and opportunities when it comes to sports marketing. Below is his take on the growth of soccer in America:

“As the profile of an American fan becomes more international, particularly Hispanic, soccer is likely to be the biggest winner. Thanks to the growth of the MLS, the increasing availability of international soccer content in open TV and, mostly, the incredible global success of the women’s national team, new generations of fans will be as familiar with the Mbapes, and Alex Morgans as their grandparents were with the Joe Montanas and their parents are with the Tom Bradys.”

The Three Major Leagues

America’s favorite sports leagues: NFL, NBA, and MLB face a mixed set of challenges from a demographic standpoint for the decades to come.

  • NFL, America’s favorite sport has an excellent position with African American and Asian American sports fans, and a substantial appeal to Hispanic fans, which explains why we see more outreach efforts from the league like games in Mexico City and increased availability of games broadcast in Spanish.
  • Similarly, the NBA has also been investing in becoming more international, including efforts to connect with Latin American and Asian markets. These efforts, combined with their stronghold among African American sports fans, make the league another strong contender to benefit from the shifts in demographics in the years to come.
  • For MLB, the challenge for the next decades is less about connecting with multicultural fans, but more about how to make a game considered too long by many, played during too long of a season to interest a generation of consumers used to “everything now.”

Weak Spots

On the other side of the spectrum are Nascar and NHL, who significantly under-index in preference among sports fans from minority ethnic backgrounds, with less than a third of the responses when compared to their non-Hispanic White preference levels. If these leagues don’t become more relevant to minority fans, they risk experiencing declines in attendance at their events, in viewership, in broadcasting fees from media partners, and ultimately sponsorship dollars from corporations.

The Idol Factor

Idols are extremely important for building leagues, franchises, and brands, and having icons from the multicultural segment is a great step toward the path of making your brand more relevant with multicultural fans. Still, you don’t need to be from a minority background to connect with minority consumers, as pointed out by Freddy Rolón, ESPN Deportes Vice President and General Manager, based on the Sports Poll data, a study about sports interest in America: “Kobe Bryant was a great example of an athlete that connected with multicultural consumers. He speaks Spanish, has publicly demonstrated his passion for soccer, which is a departure from a U.S. centric type of sports idol we are used to seeing”.

What Won’t Change

In spite of the fast changes we will face during the next decades, according to Rolón, a few things won’t change: “Despite all the future demographic changes, one thing that will stay the same is that there will be very few opportunities for brands to connect with a massive audience of fans like they do during a live sports event. Live sports bring scale because people want to watch sports live. Given the current (and future) media fragmentation environment we live in, expect live sports and news to break through the clutter and that’s key in reaching a wider audience. However, brands should go beyond the game itself; marketers should also focus on the stories behind the game, the players, the stadiums, the eco-system surrounding the games.”

Watch Outs

  1. Almost every sports franchise, either at the league level or individual team level, will need a multicultural strategy for the next decades.
  2. Similar to what we observe from best practices in multicultural advertising, sports franchises should focus on being relevant through authentic culture strategies, rather than depending on language or stereotypical approaches.
  3. Sports franchises need to build a fan base with an approach that starts from grassroots, youth connection, growing vertically towards professional levels, passing through the so crucial high school and college steps.
  4. Either from a video streaming consumption or by the growing relevancy of eSports, multicultural consumers are leading the pack when it comes to the fusion of technology and sports.

One thing is for sure. The impact of multicultural consumers as they relate to the sports scene in the U.S. is bound to make it “a whole different ballgame”. Get ready!

Source: The Minority-Majority Shift. Two Decades That Will Change America. For Sports Marketing, It’s Game On.

Don Cherry, Colin Kaepernick and why ‘stick to sports’ doesn’t work

Good column by Balkissoon:

Seen one way, Don Cherry and Colin Kaepernick lost their jobs in similar fashion, after widespread objections to their bringing politics into their respective games. Seen more clearly, the situations are completely different, as Mr. Cherry used his Hockey Night in Canada platform to broadcast a prejudiced diatribe unsupported by facts, while Mr. Kaepernick silently took a knee in NFL stadiums to protest documented examples of police killings of unarmed civilians.

Both men were in the news this week, with Mr. Cherry being fired from Coach’s Corner on Monday after he refused to apologize for a rambling accusation that “you people that come here” don’t respect veterans and soldiers. Mr. Kaepernick’s story has a new twist – on Tuesday, the NFL announced it was playing host to a workout this weekend where coaches and owners could assess how game-ready the quarterback is after three years off the professional field.

These are just two recent examples of professional sports being used as a lens through which to view current affairs. Which is hardly a surprise, as sports have always reflected and refracted the day’s politics; African-American sprinter Jesse Owens’s 1936 Olympic success in a rising Nazi Germany is just one way-back example. What’s silly, but also unsurprising, are futile calls to keep athletics and politics separate. That’s impossible and not desirable, either.

Other relevant stories from the past week include a Woman of the Year award won by U.S. soccer midfielder Megan Rapinoe. In her speech at the ceremony, put on by Glamour magazine, she said that Mr. Kaepernick is still “effectively banned from the NFL” for protesting “known and systematic racial injustice.”

Ms. Rapinoe also referenced a continuing gender discrimination suit against U.S. Soccer. The same day, she was quoted elsewhere criticizing a revamped pay structure that would benefit female soccer players – but only new signees, not those already on the national team.

As well, former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice stoked the fire burning between China and the NBA. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said the Chinese government told him to fire Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey for a pro-Hong Kong comment made in October. (Beijing denies this happened.) On Monday, Ms. Rice called China’s harsh response “a violation of American sovereignty.”

Unbelievably, not one of these four stories was covered by the smart, snarky U.S. sports website Deadspin. That is, the formerly smart website Deadspin, which was full of killer sports reporting, alongside great pieces about politics, parenting, culture and ephemera. That all changed in October, when the site’s new-ish owners, G/O Media, advised the editorial staff that their new mandate was to “stick to sports.”

In response, acting editor-in-chief Barry Petchesky filled the homepage with non-sports stories and was fired. The entire editorial team then resigned. The hollowed-out site that remains is now missing both fun commentary and real journalism – in 2014, Deadspin was one of the first outlets to obtain audio of then-L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling making overtly racist comments that eventually got him ousted from the NBA.

“Do I make the game, or do they make the game?” Mr. Sterling said about players on that tape, as quoted by Mr. Petchesky in a New York Times op-ed from Monday. Pointing out that not sticking to sports had made the site quite successful, the former editor furiously rebutted the idea that athletics exists separately from the wider world, saying that “Deadspin’s position was that it’s all in the game.”

Since its 2004 founding, “Deadspin’s approach was a reaction to the predominant strain of sports writing at the time, which treated athletes as either Greek demigods unconcerned with the dealings of the world or spoiled millionaires playing children’s games,” Mr. Petchesky wrote.

That’s a brave approach considering the power those demigods can wield – British journalist David Walsh endured years of public insults from Lance Armstrong before the cyclist’s doping scandal finally broke wide. Following his work, genuine journalism focused on sports has led to an overdue airing of dirty secrets, from the effects of rampant concussions, to attempts to hide domestic violence, to multiple coverups of the sexual abuse of minors. That’s a good thing.

Sure, it’s a downer that such revelations encroach on the thrill of watching elite athletes in action, but ignoring concussions, unequal pay and the rest of it was a pretty distasteful way to be entertained. Sports are part of real life and denying that has never made problems go away.

Source:     Don Cherry, Colin Kaepernick and why ‘stick to sports’ doesn’t work Denise Balkissoon 11 hours ago Updated       

Chart of the Day: Sports and New Citizens

Great initiative by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship to raise the profile and encourage more new Canadian citizens to participate in sports, with a really good info graphic (which can be saved in a high-resolution pdf) and report (New citizens, sports & belonging):

Sports Infographic-FINAL