Through our Racial and Gender Report Cards, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) studies the diversity of professional and college sport. However, our most recent report, the 2018 Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) Racial and Gender Report Card, evaluates the media and which stories they choose to cover and how these stories are told. Having diversity among staff in our media is critical to news being representative of our society and considerate of a diverse audience.
The sixth edition of the report was released Wednesday. The study evaluated over 75 newspapers and websites and is intended to measure the changes in racial and gender hiring practices from the 2014 study.
Sports media leaders remain largely white and male. For 2018, the grade for racial hiring practices for APSE newspapers and websites was a B -- the same grade as in the 2014 study. The APSE newspapers and websites received the fifth consecutive F for gender hiring practices. The combined grade for 2018 was a D-plus, the lowest of all the reports issued by TIDES. This report shows that 85 percent of the sports editors, 77 percent of the assistant sports editors, 80 percent of the columnists, 82 percent of the reporters and 78 percent of the copy editors/designers were white. The percentages of males in those positions this year are 90, 70, 83, 89, and 80.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights icon and founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, told me, "Many people do not fully appreciate the value of having ethnically diverse journalists that can to help tell the story from a culturally sensitive perspective, and also capture the interests of a wider sports audience. In addition, accomplished writers such as Howard Bryant, Shelley Smith, Michael Wilbon, Jemele Hill and David Aldridge can present a picture of sports with a wider lens given both their experiences and their expertise.
"Talented media personalities like these are often also provided unique access to the African-American athlete that allows them to create a broader picture of our sports heroes, which in turn gives the overall audience a greater perspective on players and their paths of success both on and off the field."
Despite this dismal grade, the study demonstrated several significant improvements made by the APSE members. The positions we evaluated in this study are sports editor, associate sports editor, columnist, reporter and copy editor/designer. The percentage of people of color improved in all five categories and there were increases for women as sports editors, assistant sports editors, columnists and copy editors/designers. The only decrease was for women as reporters.
Some noteworthy items include:
• The percentages of African-American men holding the positions of sports editor, assistant sports editor and reporter increased by 2, 3 and 2 percentage points, respectively.
• White male sports editors decreased by 5 percentage points.
• The percentage of women and people of color as assistant sports editors increased most substantially, by 20 and 14 percentage points, respectively.
• Latino men increased in percentage for all categories: specifically, 0.6 percentage points for sports editors, 2 percentage points for assistant sports editors, 0.8 percentage points for columnists, 0.5 percentage points for reporters and 5.5 percentage points for copy editors/designers.
• Asian men as sport editors, assistant sports editors, columnists and reporters increased by 0.8, 3.0, 0.2 and 0.7 percentage points, respectively.
• The percentage of Latinas and Asian women as sports editors, columnists and copy editors/designers increased. These increases for Latinas were 2, 0.4 and 0.6 percentage points for the positions listed above. For Asian women, the increases were 1.3, 0.4 and 0.5 percentage points, respectively.
Among the most important things to note is the role played by ESPN in these key categories. ESPN formed a substantial part of the totals for women and people of color who were sports editors, assistant sport editors and columnists. This success and the leadership ESPN has shown is largely due to the conviction of its former president, John Skipper.
My first meeting with Skipper was in December 2011, when he and ESPN editor John Walsh visited me to help them create a more diverse and inclusive workplace at ESPN. I was more than impressed by the commitment. Skipper has become a close friend and has been an impactful voice within ESPN and in the sports world in general when it comes to diversity and inclusion. He became a true advocate for increasing opportunities for women and people of color in the media.
He recently shared with me that, "At ESPN we understood that our work would be better and our business improved if we hired from the entire pool of talented editors, reporters and writers. I am proud of the strong commitment shown by ESPN to provide opportunity in sports media for women and people of color." John not only spoke about these topics, but he took action.
To illustrate this, here are some examples of ESPN's impact on people of color and women as assistant sports editor and columnists, as reported in this year's study:
• Of the 70 people of color who are assistant sports editors, 51 work for ESPN. If the ESPN assistant sports editors of color were removed, the overall percentage of assistant sports editors of color would drop from 24 percent to 8 percent. Of the 89 women who were assistant sports editors, 75 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN assistant sports editors who are women were removed, the overall percentage of female assistant sports editors would drop from 30 percent to 6 percent.
• ESPN also had a significant effect on the percentage of female columnists at the largest newspapers and websites. Of the 44 women who were columnists at this level, 38 worked for ESPN. Of the 44 women, four were African-American, one was Latina and two were Asian. All 11 women of color were employed by ESPN. If the ESPN columnists who are women were removed, the overall percentage of female columnists would drop from 19 percent to 3 percent.
• Of the 41 men of color who were columnists at the largest newspapers and websites, 32 worked for ESPN. ESPN employed 18 of the 24 African-American male columnists, six of the eight Latino columnists, all three of the Asian columnists, and five of the six people categorized as "Other." If the ESPN male columnists who are people of color were removed, the percentage of male columnists of color would drop from 22 percent to 6 percent.
Among the many achievements Skipper made at ESPN, I believe his commitment to diversity is his most powerful. His leadership not only affected ESPN, but forged a path for other media organizations to follow in ESPN's footsteps. He was recognized for this dedication in 2016 when he received the 2016 WISE Champion Award, an annual award recognizing a male executive who has championed women in the workplace.
The APSE is certainly moving in the right direction, but still has considerable ground to cover to be inclusive of women and people of color. The largest gap in diversity among the APSE is in the lack of women in the positions studied. My continued recommendation is that the APSE adopt a Ralph Wiley Rule, named after the late African-American writer. The Wiley Rule would be like the Rooney Rule in the NFL and would call for a diverse pool of candidates, including people of color and women, for each opening of these key positions.
Rev. Jackson endorses the implementation of a Wiley Rule "to help ensure that qualified candidates are included in the hiring process."
"For those who cannot hit home runs, throw touchdowns or nail a 3-point shot," Jackson told me, "sports media provides an additional access point to opportunities to participate within the multibillion-dollar sports industry and helps to 'keep hope alive' in the field of sports journalism."
Jemele Hill has been a pioneer as the only woman of color who was a sports columnist for many years. She remains an outspoken visionary at ESPN, where she is currently a senior correspondent for The Undefeated. After reading the Report Card, she told me that, "There has been progress, but our industry still needs to be challenged on a consistent basis to provide entry points for people of color. Certainly ESPN has some resource advantages, but that shouldn't be an excuse for other media organizations. We need increased efforts across the board to retain, groom and seek women and people of color."
Christine Brennan, USA Today columnist and CNN and ABC commentator, reflected on the numbers for women: "There are hundreds of young women, all of them daughters of Title IX, who want to become sports journalists. That is a fact. We see them apply for the Association for Women in Sports Media scholarship/internship program every year, and many of us hear from those same women, and others like them, who dream of a career covering sports.
"But then something happens -- or, actually, doesn't happen. They are not being hired, at least in enough numbers to significantly move the needle in our 21st century sports departments. We know openings are scarce, but when a job becomes available, sports editors absolutely must do a better job of finding, encouraging and hiring women. As things stand now, these numbers are a total embarrassment."
I believe there is hope for the APSE to improve greatly in the next study. I have been encouraged by the APSE's current president and sports editor of The Kansas City Star, Jeff Rosen, who issued a challenge to his fellow sports editors and managers and directors to "broaden every search for job candidates that they make when they're able to hire for a position." Finally, something that Rosen expressed enthusiasm for and that I am encouraged by is that, as he stated, "This year, for the first time, our organization has elected an African-American woman, Lisa Wilson of The Undefeated, into leadership. In two years, she'll ascend to the presidency of APSE."
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport recognizes that all businesses, including the media, must hire the most qualified individual for each position. However, the Institute strongly believes that diversity is a business imperative and can provide a different perspective and possibly a competitive advantage for a win in the boardroom as well as with the public audience. Considering that the APSE requested that this study be completed and knowing that they have excellent leadership, I feel confident that increased diversity in our media will follow in the coming years. However, it has been 12 years since the first report and progress has been very slow.
Maybe our athletes who are now active on social justice issues can demand the people covering them need to look more like them. Striving to ensure that our media is representative of our society is critical because the media provides information and tells the stories of our world. This information and these stories must come from a diverse perspective and be inclusive of all people. If not, we are shortchanging ourselves with only a partial picture of the sports we play.
Todd Currie contributed significantly to this column.
Richard E. Lapchick is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of 16 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card, and is the president the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook.