Study: WNBA a diversity leader

NEW YORK -- The WNBA still leads the way in sports diversity.

The league received an A-plus Thursday for the second consecutive year in an annual report card on race and gender. The WNBA is the only professional league to have received a perfect grade.

"It's always great to be able to model the kind of behavior you want to see," WNBA president Donna Orender said. "We talk about being an organizing that wants to lead and create change, and to be rated as high as we are on values we prize is great."

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport study, run by Richard Lapchick of the University of Central Florida, rates pro leagues and college sports on the number of participating women and minorities.

The study reported a 10 percent increase in the number of black general managers in the WNBA and a slight increase in black head coaches. Women also gained ground, with 10 percent increases in the number of head coaches and team presidents, and a slight increase in the number of general managers.

Lapchick said the WNBA has long led the way in his diversity and gender studies. The league began play in 1997, about the same time the NBA began its diversity initiative.

"The WNBA remained as the best employer overall for women and people of color in sport," Lapchick said. "They have set the standard for sport with their combined A-plus grade. Taken with the NBA's overall A grade, basketball has again swept the table for best practices for hiring from a diverse pool of candidates."

The study was based on data from teams and the league office. A draft of the report was sent to the WNBA. The league responded with updates and corrections that were included in the final edition.

The league lost one of its original teams when the Houston Comets, who won the first four championships, folded in the offseason. The economy has also forced teams to reduce roster sizes and coaching staffs, but Orender pointed to recent increases in ratings, attendance, merchandise sales and Web traffic as a sign the league remains healthy.

Orender remains the only female president of a professional sports league.

"It makes sense that the WNBA, as an offshoot of the NBA, is scoring high marks," said Dave Czesniuk, the director of Northeastern University's Sport in Society program. "It's a credit to David Stern's leadership and making diversity an inherent part of their strategic planning."

The WNBA still does not have any nonwhite majority owners, although four women have majority ownership: Carla Christofferson and Katherine Goodman own the Los Angeles Sparks, and Colleen J. Maloof and Adrienne Maloof-Nassif own the Sacramento Monarchs.

Sheila Johnson remains the only black woman to hold any ownership in a WNBA team, with about 6 percent of Lincoln Holdings, the ownership group of the Washington Mystics.

Of the WNBA's 13 teams, six began the season with female head coaches: Lin Dunn of the Indiana Fever, Pat Coyle of the New York Liberty, Marynell Meadors of the Atlanta Dream, Jennifer Gillom of the Minnesota Lynx, Julie Plank of the Mystics and Jenny Boucek of the Monarchs. Boucek was fired this season and replaced by general manager John Whisenant.

Five head coaches were black: Gillom, Michael Cooper of the Sparks, the Chicago Sky's Steven Key, Corey Gaines of the Phoenix Mercury and Rick Mahorn of the Detroit Shock. Cooper will take over the Southern California women's basketball program after the season.

"The fact that WNBA exists and is growing in popularity and continues to garner support shows they're doing OK," Czesniuk said. "They're a pretty solid example for what other leagues and conferences should strive for."