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Blacklights: ABIS Report on the State of Blacks in Sports


Prepared by the ABIS Racial Equity Research Subcommittee

            Sports are an important part of American society.  While some people consider sports as purely a source of entertainment, sports may best be understood as a social institution.  Sports are a microcosm of the broader society.  Every sport from the grassroots to the professional level is affected by all of the -isms of oppression that effect society, most notably racism.  Racial inequities in sports illuminates powerful evidence of the continuing significance of race in America.  In this summary report ABIS Racial Equity Research members highlight illuminates racial disparities in college sports and several professional leagues using information from a variety of sources, such as The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) Racial and Gender Report Cards. Hence the title, “Blacklights: ABIS Report on the State of Blacks in Sports.”  TIDES provides data about racial, ethnic, and gender groups. We call attention to several of the most substantial Black-White differences. We examine change over time by exploring more than one data point.  That is, readers note that we spotlight data from the 2019-2020 season alongside data for the 2009-2010 and the 1999-2000 seasons when possible to provide a longitudinal analysis of changes or stagnation over time.  Next, we move beyond the numbers to explore several other important issues that are representative of the state of Black people in sports.  Specifically, we offer commentary and recommendations about the following:  a) procurement and the inclusion of Black-owned businesses, b) hiring of Black coaches, staff, and administrators, c) access to mental health and wellness services, d) names, images, and likenesses,  e) athletic programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), f) Olympic sports, g) unequal and unjust treatment, and h) the violation of Constitutional rights.

We disagree with the commonly held belief that the data speak for themselves.  Theory, practice, timing, context, and experience give data meaning.  It is important the racial inequities found in Blacklights are placed in appropriate historical, economic, and social contexts.  To that end, we offer a recommended reading list at the end of report. The list serves as a foundation for the creation of course syllabi on racial equities in sports or as a source of information for players, administrators, coaches, and fans who want to increase their knowledge base of the vast size and complexity of the world of sports. Understanding this information can enable us tore(imagine) and re(create) a sports industry where the advancement of Black people is the rule and not the exception.

            College sports is a multi-billion dollar industry run almost exclusively by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).  The vast majority of Black people in big-money sports are Black men college athletes.  The overrepresentation of Black men college athletes in Division-1 basketball and football is clear as well as their concurrent underrepresentation in Olympic sports aside from track and field.  During the 1999-2000 season, 55% of players in Division-1 basketball were Black.  The percentage of Black men basketball players was 58% during the 2009-2010 season and just over 53% for the 2019-2020 season. The fact that Black males have constituted over half of Division I men’s basketball (a sport that generates billions of dollars for the NCAA through the March Madness broadcasting rights) while concurrently being underrepresented in leadership positions such as head coaches, athletic directors, and conference commissioners underscores how this group is systemically valued for their athletic labor while being denied access to powerful decision making positions. Along the same lines, Nearly 40% of Division-1 football players were Black, according to data for the 1999-2000 academic year.  The percentage for this group was 48.3% for the 2009-2010 academic year and about 45% for 2019-2020.  Although, football does not generate the same amount of revenue for the NCAA, this sport does generate millions of dollars for member institutions and the athletic conferences. Similar to their Black male basketball counterparts, Black male football players more likely to experience an athletic environment that is managed by White males.

Regarding sports beyond football and basketball, Black men are missing in Division-1 baseball.  In the 1999-2000 academic year, about 7 percent of the baseball players were Black compared to 8 percent during the 2009-2010 academic years and only 45 in 2019-2020.   Research has indicated these trends are largely a result of socio-structural (i.e., lack of access to the sport at the youth age) and cultural factors (i.e., perceived and real sense of not feeling welcomed in the sport based on their race). Despite awareness of these findings, baseball organizers have done little to redress these systemic issues (notable efforts such as Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) initiative is duly noted, but still falls short of fully addressing the full range of barriers facing Black youth who are or would be interested in playing baseball).

Nearly 42% of the athletes in Women’s Basketball were Black during the 2019-2020 academic year and 33.3% were White.  During the same year, the data show nearly one-quarter of the Outdoor Track athletes were Black women.  More than half of the women in Outdoor Track were White.  Over 70% of the Women’s Softball teams were made up of White women athletes and only 4.4% were Black.  Black women athletes were also underrepresented in Softball in the 2009-2010 and 1999-2000 academic years.  The percentage of Black women athletes in the sport was 3.4% and 8.6%, respectively. 

In regards to leadership positions in college sport, the vast majority of the decision-makers are White men.  Data from the race and gender report cards show the magnitude of this issue and reveal how little has changed over time.  In the case of NCAA Executive Senior/Vice Presidents, over 83.3% were White in 2000 compared to 70.6% in 2010 and 68.4% in 2020.  The percentage of Black NCAA Executive Senior/Vice Presidents was less than 17% in 2000, nearly 30% in 2010, and 31.6% in 2020.  The percentage of Black NCAA Executive Senior/Vice Presidents has increased over time, but Black people remained underrepresented relative to the overrepresentation of Black men athletes in the highest-revenue generating sports of football and basketball across all Division 1 programs. 

Between 1999 and 2020, the vast majority of NCAA Administrators, NCAA Staff, and Conference Commissioners were White.  In the case of NCAA Administrators, more than 75% were White.  This was also the case for the total full-time NCAA Staff between 2010 and 2020.  Nearly 80% were White based upon the data collected for 2010 and 76.3%  identified as White in 2020.  The percentages of Black men and Black women who held the position of Athletics Director were in the single digits or at zero in each year. This fact is perhaps the most revelatory about the perceptions and treatment of Blacks in college sport beyond athletic participation in select sports. For example, less than 9% of the Athletics Directors in 2019-2020 were Black men and 1.5% were Black women.  In 2009-2010, Black men accounted for only 5.7% of the Athletics Directors and Black women constituted .3%.  The percentage of Black women Athletics Directors was zero in 1999-2000 and less than 3% were Black men.  In 2010, there were zero Conference Commissioners and by 2020 there were two representing 6.7% of all Conference Commissioners. 

            College Head Coaches were more diverse than Conference Commissioners, but not by much.  Concerning men’s teams, only 22.7% of the head coaches in Men’s Basketball were Black during the 2019-2020 academic year compared to 20% in 2009-2010, and 21.6% in 1999-2000.  The percentages of Black men head coaches in football and baseball in Division 1 were even lower for each year.  For example, only 8% of the head coaches for football were Black in 2019-2020 and 1% of the head coaches for baseball were Black in 2019-2020 and 2009-2010.  The percentage was slightly higher in the earliest year, 1999-2000, at 4.4%.

            Advancements for Black people in the National Basketball Association (NBA) are also needed.  Black people were overrepresented among the players and underrepresented in decision-making positions such as in the League Office and among the majority and controlling owners.  In 1999-2000, 2009-2020, and 2019-2020, more than 70% of the players were Black, while no more than 21.4% were professional employees in the league office.  During the same period, there was only one majority or controlling owner.  Less than a third of head coaches in each of three periods were Black.  The percentage of Black people holding the position of CEO/President was never higher than 12%.  Among the trainers, for example, Black people comprised less than 16% in each of the three years.  Black people were also underrepresented among announcers.  Less than one-fifth of the announcers were Black in any given year.  There was less of a racial disparity among NBA referees.  More than 40% of the NBA referees were Black for the years data was provided. 

            Racial disparities were also observed in the National Football League (NFL).  Black players accounted for between 57.5% to 67% of the players but no more than 20% of the head coaches.  During the 2019-2020 season, for example, less than 10% of the head coaches were Black.  Less than 12% of the league office was Black and nearly all of the CEOs/Presidents were not Black.  About a quarter of the NFL officials were Black=. 

            Black players were underrepresented in Major League Baseball (MLB).  While 13% of the players were Black in 2000, the percentage dropped to 9.1% in 2010 and 7.5% in 2020.  Black people made up less than 15% of the central office staff during each year and for the most part were not likely to work as managers.  About 3% of the managers were Black in 2020, which was a decrease from the 13% of managers that were Black, according to the data from 2010 and 2000.  While nearly 20% of the coaches were Black in 2000, 12% of the coaches were Black in 2010, and about 6% were Black in 2020. Zero percent of the CEOs/Presidents were Black in each of the three years analyzed.  Only 3.3 percent of those who occupied the position of General Manager/President of Baseball Operations were Black in 2020.  The percentages of Black General Managers/Presidents of Baseball Operations were 11.5% in 2010 and 0% in 2000.  The percentages of Black people in the positions of Vice President, Senior Administrators, and Team Professional Administration were also in the single digits for each of the three years analyzed. 

            Black women made up the majority of the players in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Nearly 70% of players were Black in 2020 and 2010 and 65% were Black in 2000; however, Black people never comprised more than 35% of the professional employees in the league office.  No more than 15.6% of the majority owners during these times were Black.  One-quarter of the head coaches were Black in 2020, 33% identified as Black in 2010, and 31% identified as Black in 2000.  No more than 16.7% of the CEOs/Presidents were Black and no more than one-third of the General Managers were Black.  In 2020, 24.6% of Vice Presidents or above were Black.  Only 4% of people in this position were Black in 2010 and 11% were Black in 2004 (the earliest year for which data was available to this position).  Finally, Black people were virtually nonexistent among physicians in the WNBA. There were no Black physicians in 2004 and six years later in 2010 only one (out of a total of nine positions) were Black.

            The data from the race and gender report cards are insightful, but they only tell part of the story of the historical and contemporary racial inequities in sports. The data point to the ongoing racial disparities that exist beyond to the playing field to the front offices.  They highlight the dismal record and state of racial equity in sports.  The data also show the need for the advancement of Black people in sports.  The results must be understood within the context of broader issues related to race and racism in society and sports.  These issues include the underrepresentation of Black-owned businesses as preferred vendors; the effects of proposed changes related to names, images, and likenesses on Black college athletes; the creation of a professional high school basketball league; lack of access to mental health and wellness and black mental health counselors; the lack of hiring of Black coaches and staff; the state of athletic programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the protection of Black athletes in Olympic Sports; hostile and discriminatory treatment by coaches; and threats to and disregard of the constitutional rights of athletes amidst recent national anthem protests. 

            Sports is a multi-billion dollar industry with many beneficiaries.  Black-owned businesses are disadvantaged in the market and they are often absent among vendors and suppliers who have contracts with professional sports leagues and high-profile college and university athletics departments.  Although some professional leagues have established diversity supplier programs, the jury is still out with regards to the effectiveness of such programs on Black-owned businesses and Black communities.  Connecting Black-owned businesses with professional leagues and with procurement personnel in colleges, universities, and conferences is critical.  Linking professional leagues, colleges, universities, and conferences with local Black Chambers of Commerce is important as is providing opportunities for Black-owned businesses to bid for contracts when required and receive contracts on-the-spot.  A national clearinghouse for data that reveals how much business corporations and higher education institutions spend with Black-owned businesses is needed.  Recently, ABIS drafted a letter regarding the need to support Black-owned businesses to coaches and conference administrators given the limited locations of the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, along with a list of Black-owned businesses to patronize.  We must normalize this level of communication, coordination, and support for Black-owned businesses. 

            Many entities, including sports, have called for greater diversity in hiring in the wake of the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.  Responses to calls for hiring more Black people in any capacity are often met with the retort that qualified Black candidates are hard to find.  ABIS, working in collaboration with several coaches and coaching associations from the grassroots to the professional levels, developed a watch list for Men’s and Women’s College Basketball.  The process and list should serve as a model for other sports to assist with the identification of highly qualified candidates to increase their visibility and employment outlook. 

            For years, lawyers, scholars, coaches, fans, and former college players have argued for changes in the ways that college athletes’ names, images, and likenesses were sources of profit for just about everyone, but the athletes.  States, including California and Florida, have helped draw attention to the issue through the introduction of legislation that would change big-time college sports as we know it.  The ABIS Legal Team includes some of the leading authorities on antitrust and regulatory issues.  The team produced three amicus briefs to inform upcoming discussions at the U.S. Supreme Court.  Definitions of amateurism must continue to be complicated and challenged.  The planned professional high school basketball league is a step in a progressive direction.  Efforts to provide financial, legal, and life coaching to Black players in emerging professional high school leagues and Black college athletes in anticipation of changes to names, images, and likenesses and related issues such as those underway at ABIS must expand beyond colleges and universities to every level of sports. The excellence beyond athletics (EBA) framework referenced at the end of this document is an example content that could be disseminated among these players.  In addition, promoting and fostering the establishment of a college athlete union comparable to the professional players’ association would strengthen the likelihood of greater protections and benefits for this group both during their playing days and after.

            Not only are the intergenerational wealth of Black college athletes and Black people at risk given the current state of Black people in sports, but also their mental health and wellness.  Access to mental health and wellness must be readily available to all people in need including to Black people overall and Black athletes more specifically.  We cannot tolerate delays in the timing to diagnosis and treatment as it has been and will continue to literally be a matter of life and death. Mental health professionals should be available to school-age children including in predominately Black school districts and to Black college athletes.  There is already limited access to mental health professionals on college campuses and access to Black mental health professionals is even more scarce. Establishing a formal relationship with the National Association of Black Psychologists and similar culturally responsive professional associations is recommended.

            HBCUs have produced some of the best college coaches and players in the history of sports.  Integration (or what some refer to as assimilation and unilateral talent extraction rather than a symbiotic exchange), among other factors, has contributed to an athletic drain at HBCUs where talented Black players have been courted to attend Historically White Institutions (HWIs).  Many HBCUs have not only been drained of talented athletes and coaches, but also other important resources.  Greater investment into HBCUs both academically and athletically is needed given the current state of Black people in sports.  There are many ways to raise the profile of HBCU athletic departments and support the athletes and the institutions financially.  The recent agreement between ABIS member, Trevor Williams, and CBS Sports, to host an All-Star HBCU Weekend at the Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana is just one example of the possibilities. Combining Bowl game and March Madness contracts with HBCU classics and other athletic events would be another example of engaging in race conscious restorative justice efforts.  

            Some of the best-known U.S. gymnasts in the past few decades have been Black girls and Black women despite their underrepresentation in the sport.  At present, Black females do not have the option of furthering their talents in the sport at an HBCU.  The state of Black people in sports must change so that the next generation of Black female gymnasts have greater options when it comes to competing at the college-level. Gymnastics is not the only Olympic sport requiring the attention of individuals and organizations committed to the advancement of Black people in sports.  As college athletics departments across the country have had to make difficult decisions about whether to eliminate certain sports, Track & Field was a target in far too many instances. Athletic departments should take measures to ensure such decisions do not convey the message that Black college athletes in high-revenue generating sports (i.e., football and men’s basketball) matter more than Black college athletes in lower- or non-revenue generating sports (i.e., Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field. 

            The mistreatment of Black athletes at all levels of competition should not be tolerated by anyone.  Nor should the violation of Black athletes’ constitutional rights.  Black athletes continue to face hostile and discriminatory treatment both when they engage in peaceful protests (protected under the U.S. constitution) and when they are merely living their lives and trying to maximize the opportunities presented to them at their respective institutions. Yet, they  still hear chants to, “shut up and play.”  For example, an independent investigation was conducted into allegations of discrimination against former Black players at the University of Iowa.  Former Black players revealed racial disparities in disciplinary actions among other charges. The Men’s Basketball Head Coach at Creighton University, Greg McDermott, reportedly told his team after a loss to Xavier, that he needed more focus.  To achieve that goal, McDermott said he needed everyone to stay on the plantation.  This is simply unacceptable as is current legislation in states like Tennessee aimed at forcing athletes to perform in certain ways during the playing of the national anthem.  At the University of Texas, Black football players and academic administrators faced intense backlash when they expressed discontent with the school’s alma mater song “The Eyes of Texas”, which is associated with pro-Confederate/slavery sentiments. Several of the football players in an act of protest decided to leave the field after games when the song was played and subsequently a number of wealthy White donors threatened to pull their financial contributions to the school if the players were not forced to stand and listen to the song. Athletes, like all Americans, have a constitutional right to peacefully protest if they so choose.  Some fans, coaches, legislators, administrators, and boosters seem to think that the state of Black people in sports is one where Black athletes are not viewed as total persons.  Stated another way, Black players are deemed property and thus not deserving of human dignity let alone constitutional rights as U.S. citizens.  

Blacklights: The State of Blacks in Sports, highlighted some of the most pressing issues within sports today that require immediate and continued attention in order to aid in the advancement of Blacks in sports. Advocacy, activism, engagement, awareness, and education are all keys to victory.  Education should never be confined to any four walls.  ABIS in collaboration with Black Leadership Association for Athletes, Administrators and Coaches (B.L.A.A.A.C.) launched the Historical Hidden Figures campaign, which featured little known facts about Black people in the history of college sports and included partnerships with area schools where college athletes read stories to K-12 students that featured historical hidden figures.

To further educate individuals and organizations committed to our mission and the mobilization others to tackle the tough challenge of racial inequities in sports, ABIS offers the “Do You See What We See: Recommended Reading List.”  Please consider adding these materials to your own library and share them with your personal and professional network.

020 Racial and Gender Report Cards 

 2020 Complete Sport Racial and Gender Report Card

RGRC Link:

ESPN Link:

2020 MLS Racial and Gender Report Card

RGRC Link:

ESPN Link:

2020 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card

RGRC Link:

ESPN Link:

2020 MLB Racial and Gender Report Card

RGRC Link:

ESPN Link:

2020 NFL Racial and Gender Report Card

RGRC Link:

ESPN Link:

2020 WNBA Racial and Gender Report Card

RGRC Link:

ESPN Link:

2020 College Sport Racial and Gender Report Card

RGRC Link:

ESPN Link:

2020-21 DI FBS Leadership Racial and Gender Report Card

RGRC Link:

ESPN Link:

Graduation Rate Reports

Keeping Score When It Counts: Academic Progress/Graduation Success Rate Study of the Projected 2020 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams

RGRC Link:

Keeping Score When It Counts: Academic Progress/Graduation Success Rate Study of the Projected 2020 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament Teams

RGRC Link:

2020 Brackets for Brains and Diversity

RGRC Link:

Assessing the Academic Records of the 2020-2021 Bowl-Bound College Football Teams

RGRC Link:

ESPN Link:

Bennerman, C. (2016). The Procx. Greensboro, NC: Cameron Bennerman. 

Bimper, A. Y., Jr. (2020). Black Collegiate Athletes and the Neoliberal State: Dreaming from Bended Knee. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. 

Brooks, D., & Althouse, R. (2000). Racism in college athletics: The African American athlete’s experience (2nd ed.). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.  

Brooks, D. A., & Althouse, R. (2013). Racism in college athletics: The African American athlete’s experience (3rd ed.). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology. 

Brown, D. (2020). Passing the ball: Sports in African American life and culture. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.  

Bryant, H. (2018). The heritage: Black athletes, a divided America, and the politics of patriotism. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Comeaux, E. (2017). College Athletes’ Rights and Well Being: Critical Perspectives on Policy and Practice. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Cooper, J. N. (2021). A Legacy of African American Resistance and Activism Through Sport. New York, NY: Peter Lang. 

Cooper, J. N. (2019). From Exploitation Back to Empowerment: Black Male Holistic (Under)Development Through Sport and (Mis)Education. New York, NY: Peter Lang.  

Edwards, H. (1969). The revolt of the Black athlete. New York, NY: Free Press. 

Edwards, H. (1973). Sociology of sport. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press. 

Edwards, H. (1980). The struggle that must be: An autobiography. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 

Hawkins, B. (2010). The new plantation: Black athletes, college sports, and predominantly White institutions. New York, NY: Palgrave-MacMillan. 

Hawkins, B., Carter-Francique, A. R., & Cooper, J. N. (Eds.) (2017), Black Athletic Sporting Experiences in the United States: Critical Race Theory. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan. 

Hawkins, B., Cooper, J. N., Carter-Francique, A. R., and Cavil, J. K. (Eds.) (2015). The Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Past, Present, Persistence. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Press.  

Lapchick, R. (1984). Broken Promises: Racism in American Sports.  United Kingdom: St. Martins Press. 

Martin, L. L. (2014). Out of Bounds: Racism and the Black Athlete. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. 

Martin, L. L. (2015). White sports/Black sports: Racial disparities in athletic programs. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.  

Martin, L. L., Fasching-Varner, K. J., & Hartlep, N. D. (2017). Pay to Play: Race and the Perils of the College Sports Industrial Complex. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. 

Martin, L.L. (2019). Double Fault: Serena Williams and Tennis at the Intersection of Race and Gender.  Western Journal of Black Studies.  42(3&4): 88-96.

Martin, L.L. (2018).  The Politics of Sports and Protest:  Colin Kaepernick and the Practice of Leadership.” American Studies Journal. 64 (2018). Web. 19 May. 2018. DOI 10.18422/64-06.

May, R. A. B. (2008). Living through the hoop: High school basketball, race, and the American Dream. New York, NY: New York University Press.  

Nocera, J., & Strauss, B. (2016). Indentured: The inside story of the rebellion against the NCAA. New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin Random House.  

Powell, S. (2008). Souled out? How Blacks are winning and losing in sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.  

Rhoden, W. C. (2006). 40 million dollar slaves: The rise, fall, and redemption of the Black athlete. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.  

Sack, A.L. & Staurowsky, E. (1998). College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of NCAA’s Amateur Myth. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publishers. 

Sailes, G. (2010). The African American athlete: social myths and stereotypes. In G. Sailes (Ed.), Modern Sport and The African American Athlete Experience (pp. 55-68). San Diego, CA: Cognella. 

Shropshire, K., & Williams, C. (2017). The Mis-Education of Student-Athlete: How To Fix College Sports. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton School Press. 

Singer, J. N. (2020). Race, Sports, and Education: Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Male College Athletes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Press. 

Smith, E. (2009). Race, sport and the American dream (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press. 

Smith, J. M., & Willingham, M. (2015). Cheated: The UNC scandal, the education of athletes, and the future of big-time college sports. Omaha, NE: University of Nebraska Press.