Niele Ivey

As other American professional sports leagues are learning a painful lesson, the NBA will re-start its 2020 season this weekend with COVID-19 cases down to zero.

I’m writing this late Tuesday, so that could certainly change by this column’s publication. But the league that was rightfully quick to shut down its season, the league that came up with the first plan to resume play in a “bubble” and the league that immediately stood with its players in demanding an end to racism and equality in America following the George Floyd killing is also at the forefront of diversity among its peers.

Is that really a surprise?

The annual report card on racial and gender hiring issued by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida found the NBA has more people of color serving as head coaches and general managers than any other league in the U.S. It also found that more women are filling team management roles than the NBA’s counterparts.

The NBA earned an A-minus overall. The grades include an A-plus for racial hiring and a B for gender hiring. The report, which was updated this month, found that people of color represented 28 percent of general managers – a 24-year high at the start of the season in October 2019 – then reached 40 percent with the July update. Women filled 33 percent of team management positions, the highest mark in 20 years. Importantly, the NBA snapped a two year drop in this category.

“The NBA has been and continues to be the highest scoring men’s league when you’re combining race and gender hiring practices,” said TIDES director Richard Lapchick.

“They have the most proactive diversity-inclusion office in professional sports. And of course, they’re the same team that also leads the WNBA’s efforts in that area. They really take things to heart. … But they want to keep pushing themselves. It’s one of the things I admire about the NBA’s leadership.”

Lapchick, lead author of the report, applauded the NBA for receiving A-plus grades in racial hiring for its headquarters, players, head coaches, assistant coaches, team management and team professional staff. It earned an A-minus for team general managers and B-plus for team vice presidents.

Unfortunately, women hold just 26.6 percent of vice president or higher positions at the team level. The D-Plus grade helped lower the overall A-plus grade on the report card.

Women do hold 40.3 percent of professional positions at the league headquarters and 39 percent of those roles at the team level. this earned the NBA B-plus grades.

Nine women are now assistant coaches, which is six more than at the start of the 2019-20 season. Two of these coaches recently took over major college programs: Memphis’ Niele Ivey, a St. Louis native, became head coach at alma mater Notre Dame in April and Boston’s Kara Lawson became Duke’s head coach on July 11.

Additionally, nine NBA teams had a person of color or a woman as majority team owner, with no other men’s league “even close” to that total, according to the study.

Lapchick said the NBA lost some grading stature because a new category which counts team chief executive officers or presidents in its report card. Only 10.9 percent of these offices are held by people of color or women. With more than 75 percent of the NBA’s players being men of color, this earned Fs for the NBA in both racial and gender hiring. 

Two giant voices for BLM

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler took a knee with his players on opening day last week – and he’s taking threats and insults on social media. “Many (fans) were supportive. Many others used bigoted language, racist, sexist or homophobic insults or resorted to graphic threats,” he said. He added in a lengthy social media post that BLM “should be a unifying belief.”

“Kneeling is and has always been a gesture of respect and one of mourning. I respect our flag, our principles and our country, but I am also embarrassed, sad and angry that we do not provide for and protect everyone equally,” he wrote.

“So I kneel to encourage this conversation. I kneel to demonstrate my support and to lend my voice. This movement won’t be silenced.”

Speaking of taking some heat, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty pitched well and earned a victory in his team’s opening day victory Friday night over the Pittsburgh Pirates. This came after GM John Mozeliak publicly supported his young ace and acknowledged that some Cardinal fans are not happy with his support of Black Lives Matter and battle against racism.

The Cardinals wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts before the first game of the season and MLB had those words on the pitcher’s mound in every stadium. The next afternoon, Flaherty wore an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt during the national anthem and raised his arms in triumph at its conclusion.

I do have a question: Would the Cardinals have worn those shirts if there were fans in the Busch Stadium seats?

The L.A. Dodgers also knelt before the game with the Giants.

Alas, the lone player who did not kneel with his fellow Giants was pitcher Sam Coonrod.

Saying, “I only kneel before God,” Coonrod added that his Christian beliefs stood in the way of his taking part in the moving moment.

Coonrod was born in St. Louis and grew up in Carrolton, Illinois. 

The Reid Roundup

After calling out the abundance of Confederate Flags at NASCAR events (NASCAR banned them) and supporting Black Lives Matter, Bubba Wallace told Rolling Stone magazine, “I still don’t see it as being political I just see it as basically right versus wrong.”… Kevin Garnett is part of a group that is hoping to buy the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise from Glen Taylor, who has owned it since 1994. Taylor said he “will entertain opportunities” on the ownership structure of the Timberwolves and Lynx, Minnesota’s WNBA team... Scottie Pippen, who was called selfish by Michael Jordan in “The Last Dance,” said he “wasn't bothered at all,” by the documentary. “Why should I be upset about something that happened 30 years ago?” That has been my thought about the program since it was first announced. Who cares???... NFL Hall of Famer and former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka said players who kneel during the national anthem “get the hell out of the country,” I wonder what the late Walter Payton must be thinking... As if he were not loved enough in Kansas City already, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is now a member of the Kansas City Royals new ownership group... For the first time in NFL history, more than half of the players selected in the first round of the 2020 draft have black agents representing them. Of the 32 selections, 17 have black agents, according to a report in the Washington Post... More Than A Vote, which was founded by LeBron James and other black athletes and coaches, announced it will donate $100,000 to help pay the outstanding debts of people who have already served time for their felony convictions, but are still unable to vote in Florida. Nearly 800,000 people in the state with former felony convictions are still ineligible to vote because they owe court debts and fees... The annual Bayou Classic between Grambling and Southern will not be played in November. But the two HBCU schools are planning for the game sometime in spring 2021. The Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, which crowns the HBCU football champion, has also been called off... The NFL Players Association announced Tuesday that there have been 21 positive COVID-19 tests in the testing conducted as part of the training camp reporting process… After 17 Miami Marlins players tested positive with COVID-19, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price, who opted out of the 2020 season, put Commissioner Robert Manfred on front street via Twitter. “Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first. Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.”… As of Tuesday, six New England Patriots players had opted out of the 2020 season, the most of any club. This list includes All-Pro linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive back Patrick Chung.

Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1.

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