The Promise of Diversity in Sports: Why Diversity And Inclusion Matter in Sports Management

The Promise of Diversity in Sports: Why Diversity And Inclusion Matter in Sports Management

The Promise of Diversity in Sports: Why Diversity And Inclusion Matter in Sports Management banner

The athletic landscape is changing at a rapid pace. The field has experienced numerous recent trends, from emerging technologies to an increased emphasis on betting. Perhaps most importantly, there has been a greater effort to build diversity and inclusion into every aspect of the game.

This has been a long time coming. For decades, the industry has sparked criticism, with many alleging widespread biases and outright discrimination. However, much progress has been made through the years, and now, the pace of that change is starting to pick up. We are beginning to see more diversity among athletes and, in response, their fans.

The next big breakthrough? Diversity and inclusion in sports management. There is a huge push for diversity at the upper echelons of the sports world, consisting of more perspectives among team owners, coaches, athletic directors, and beyond. We’ll take a deep dive into these trends below, revealing what’s at stake for sports and diversity.

Understanding the Essence of Diversity in Sports

Diversity in sports draws on a variety of characteristics to ensure that people from all walks of life can participate in athletic events, whether as athletes, in management, or as fans. True diversity means encouraging athletes and sports enthusiasts to give it their all, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or current physical abilities.

Recognizing Diverse Perspectives in Sports Management

While there is still progress to be made in promoting diversity in athletics and among fans, it’s clear that we’ve come a long way. For example, in the MLB, over 40 percent of players come from diverse backgrounds. Now, advocates are ready to move beyond the field and the court to achieve genuine diversity in all areas of the sports industry.

Diversity in sports should extend beyond the events or activities themselves to also encompass how those events are organized and run. In other words, true diversity is not possible unless it extends to sports management.

For too long, diversity and inclusion has been lacking at the executive level, and this has had a detrimental impact on diversity in sports as a whole. When leaders in sports management only represent a specific demographic group or a specific viewpoint, they struggle to fully connect and empathize with those who may have different experiences with athletics or athletic events.

Embracing Multiculturalism in Sports Leadership

Multiculturalism is an increasingly important component of sports leadership, although this quality has a rich and often impressive history in the context of athletics. The Olympics were revived in part to build stronger global connections. Many other events now feature a global component, where executives, organizers, and administrators from around the world collaborate to meet the needs of various athletes.

These days, athletic enthusiasts are also eager to see multiculturalism built into other events and leagues. Diverse rosters are common these days, and a number of teams now host heritage nights or promote cultural exchange programs.

The Impact of Inclusion in Sports Management

As diversity and inclusion become more than mere buzz worlds in sports management, organizations are beginning to see significant benefits. From attracting talent to seeking new perspectives, diversity and inclusion call for a layered strategy that build these priorities into every aspect of the athletic experience. The impact can be considerable, however, encompassing these powerful benefits:

Fostering Inclusive Environments in Sports Organizations

DEI policies strive for inclusive environments. These ultimately have a discernible impact on employee morale and job satisfaction. Truly inclusive atmospheres foster a sense of belonging, spurred by (and leading to) positive and collaborative relationships. Research shows that employees strongly prefer to work for organizations that value and promote inclusivity.

Promoting Gender Equality and Inclusion in Sports

Female athletes have long struggled to earn the respect they deserve. Title IX delivered significant improvements, granting girls and women equal access to athletic opportunities in the context of education. This led to a dramatic rise in the participation of women in sports, especially in high schools and colleges.

Unfortunately, the pace of change in professional athletics has been slow. While there are a few women’s leagues, they often fail to receive sufficient attention, respect, or resources.

That said, several compelling female athletes are beginning to change the conversation. For instance, Caitlin Clark has driven renewed interest in women’s basketball. As a result, DEI initiatives promise to bring more females to leadership roles where they can continue to advocate for gender equality across the full spectrum of athletics.

Why Diversity Matters In Sports Management

Athletics should transcend borders and cultures, but this lofty ideal is difficult to accomplish when diversity is lacking in sports management. This is worth pursuing, as diversity can spark positive changes in organizational culture, leading to harmonious workplaces and making it easier to attract top talent in management, among athletes, and beyond.

Enhancing Innovation and Creativity Through Diversity

Diversity and innovation are closely aligned. With more perspectives come more ideas, and often, these are truly creative. Often, these drive impressive new campaigns or services that promise to enhance everything from athletic performance to fan engagement and even merchandising.

Diversity promotes the cross-pollination of ideas, where emerging concepts are enhanced through the exchange of knowledge between people with different backgrounds or areas of expertise.

Reflecting the Diverse Fan Base: Importance of Representation

Diversity in sports can have ripple effects among fans. Many rally around athletes from similar backgrounds, so a diverse team makeup can spark a great deal of enthusiasm. To note, Jeremy Lin (of the 2013 Linsanity NBA phenomenon) is believed to have sparked a significant increase in interest among Asian Americans.

In other roles, representation can encourage young people to strive for academic and professional success beyond the scope of athletic performance. This is exemplified by the legendary high school coach Robert Young, who highlights the power of representation by highlighting the unique needs of black students “discovering the world, like Coach Young was.”

Benefits of Embracing Diversity and Inclusion in Sports Management

In addition to fostering stronger workplace dynamics and positive organizational culture, diversity and inclusion can drive tangible benefits that appear on the court, and the field, and in the front office.

Strengthening Team Dynamics and Performance

Diverse teams are stronger teams. This is actually verified by a growing body of research, which indicates that a myriad of the diversity-related qualities that improve innovation and decision-making in leadership also relate to the more effective exchange of skills and knowledge in athletic teams. To illustrate, an impactful analysis of performance among national soccer teams revealed that “individual differences in cultural backgrounds [were] conducive to improved final team outcomes.”

Attracting and Retaining Top Talent in the Industry

Inclusivity plays a huge role in attracting and retaining the best and brightest coaches, athletes, and other talent. Athletes crave a sense of belonging, but when teams are not truly diverse, the few members from different backgrounds may feel ‘othered’ and have a more difficult time building genuine trust and rapport with their teammates. Diversity efforts can also have a ripple effect, attracting more people to teams or leagues perceived of as not diverse enough. Such is the case with Tim Anderson, who hopes to help black athletes feel more welcome in baseball.

Implementing Diversity and Inclusion Strategies in Sports Leadership

Diversity and inclusion are clear priorities in modern sports management, but a persistently concerning gap remains between intention and implementation. The effort to boost diversity begins with strong training, as buy-in will play a critical role in developing a truly inclusive environment. Other practical strategies for promoting diversity and inclusion are outlined below.

Creating Inclusive Policies and Practices

While there have been many inspiring grassroots efforts to expand diversity and inclusion in sports, this needs to include a top-down element. This occurs when policies and procedures demonstrate organizations’ commitment to developing an inclusive culture. Beyond this, league-based rules can promote stronger follow-through at the team level.

The Rooney Rule provides the ultimate example of advocating for diversity in a top-down manner. In the NFL, teams must interview at least two minority coaching candidates for coaching, general manager, and coordinator roles. The MLB has also implemented a similar policy known as the Selig Rule.

Training and Development for Diversity Awareness

Unconscious bias is a reality that must be understood and addressed. Training initiatives can help leaders uncover attitudes or behaviors that reflect their bias and make active efforts to overcome these. This is already mandated by many teams and leagues. For instance, the NHL requires all players to complete diversity and inclusion programs during training camp. Similarly, the NCAA promotes an Inclusion Forum, which welcomes hundreds of coaches, athletes, and administrators.

Utilizing Mentorship Programs

Mentorship can be a powerful tool for driving career growth, especially among promising prospects who have faced considerable challenges. It’s also an important tool for bringing a face to DEI concerns. By building stronger relationships between different types of sports-minded professionals, mentorship can help break down communication barriers and remove misconceptions. Mentors also act as powerful advocates and role models, bringing increased confidence to those who need it most.

Successful Applications of Diversity and Inclusion in Sports Management

The quest to achieve diversity and inclusion in sports is well underway, but multiple success stories reveal what is possible when we make a genuine effort to promote inclusive environments.

Diverse Leadership in Professional Sports Teams

The MLB has made strides in its effort to cultivate diversity at the management level. Several recently hired MLB managers represent oft-neglected demographic groups, such as Ron Washington, who was hired as the coach of the Los Angeles Angels. Adding to that, more women are starting to see an expanded presence in MLB front offices.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan represents a rare, but important example of diversity in NFL leadership. As the league’s only minority owner, he is concerned about the lack of diversity. Meanwhile, Major League Soccer is making among the most impressive efforts to expand diversity across the entire ecosystem of professional soccer.

Inclusive Marketing Campaigns in Sports Brands

Some of the most impressive diversity-related success stories center less around athletics, coaching, or sports management and more around the marketing efforts that strive to get fans as excited and as engaged as possible.

Nike represents the ultimate example of diversity as a marketing game-changer. Boasting some of the most compelling and inclusive messaging in the athletic apparel industry, Nike has been a game-changer for years. The #BETRUE initiative was especially empowering, as it celebrated the passion for sports within the LGBTQ+ community.

Driving Success Through Diversity in Sports Management

Are you determined to move the conversation forward as you advocate for diversity and inclusion in sports? As a future leader, you can make a genuine difference.

First, you’ll need targeted training, which can be pursued as you earn your online MBA in Sports Leadership. Offering a solid business foundation — but in the context of sports management — this is an amazing opportunity for the sports leaders of tomorrow.

JWU also offers an online bachelor’s in Sports, Entertainment, Event Management, which provides students with a strong understanding of event management and business to accelerate in their sports career.

For more information about completing your degree online, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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