We dont have it right: Bay Area sports teams struggle to diversify leadership – San Francisco Chronicle

Posted: November 24, 2020 at 7:54 am


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The texts started coming into Mike Brown during the pandemic lockdown. Young Black coaches were reaching out to the Warriors top assistant coach looking for information and advice. Not only on basketball Xs and Os but also on career strategy.

So, Brown started a weekly Zoom video call, beginning with about 15 participants and eventually growing to about 140 who aspired to NBA coaching or front office jobs.

People wanted to know how to get better, how to learn the job, Brown said.

General manager Bob Myers heard about the calls and asked if he could join. Brown was happy to share his boss, and the participants peppered Myers with hard questions about minority hiring and representation and their paths forward.

It was the most important Zoom call Ive had in my life, Myers said. It taught me a lot. Their questions were very pointed and very fair. Those are the conversations we need to have.

In the wake of the 2020 social justice and Black Lives Matter movements, sports is undergoing a reckoning. As the sports world takes a prominent role in pushing for equality, teams are taking a hard look at themselves and evaluating their own makeup.

The Bay Area is a birthplace for sports activism, a region where barriers for inclusion are historically broken. But a look at its key franchises shows how little progress in diversifying the power structure has actually been made.

Currently, no African Americans hold any key power positions head coach, general manager, team president or owner with any of the regions professional sports teams. Only Stanford, in terms of prominent local sports programs, has a Black person in the power seat actually two: athletic director Bernard Muir and head football coach David Shaw.

Head counting and race tallying is an uncomfortable process. However, there can be no progress made on inclusion without actually examining the ways in which teams hire and promote.

In my opinion, its 100 percent fair to count, Brown said. The least it will do is make people aware. And from there its up to each individual team to make the change.

What diversity local teams have in their most powerful positions comes in ways other than by hiring African Americans. The San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is a Pakistani-Canadian Muslim. Paraag Marathe, the former president of the 49ers and now the president of 49ers enterprises, is Indian American.

But you have to dig deeper into the staff directories and organizational charts to find more diversity. There is Oakland As assistant general manager Billy Owens, passed over by the Giants and more recently the Angels as a GM candidate, but he is not a recognizable face of the team. The As have never had a Black manager or GM.

The Giants were the first National League team to hire a Black manager in Frank Robinson. For 10 seasons, Dusty Baker was the face of the team, and was replaced by Felipe Alou. But over the past two years, as the Giants have revamped their entire front office, hiring a new GM, manager and 13 assistant coaches, diversity has not seemed to be a priority.

For all the publicity the Giants received for hiring Alyssa Nakken, baseballs first female full-time coach, a deeper look at the staff reveals little minority representation. The final two coaching hires were Antoan Richardson, their only Black coach who grew up in the Bahamas, and Nick Ortiz, their quality control coach, who is the only Spanish speaker on the extensive staff.

Seeing whats happened in the country this year has caused everyone in a position to hire to audit their own process, Zaidi said. Weve all learned a lot and recognized the imperative to change.

The Giants have a diversity, equity and inclusion council that has been incorporated into weekly executive committee meetings in recent months. Zaidi said that diversity will be a greater emphasis in future hiring. But, he added, the proof is in the pudding.

The Warriors recently hired former player Shaun Livingston to work under Myers as director of player affairs and engagement. The move brought in a widely respected member of their championship teams. But the hire also helps with diversity.

He was hired because of who he is, his character and his background, Myers said. But to be honest, its a step in the right direction.

The top layers of the Warriors management are all white men; though David Kelly, the chief legal officer, is Black, coach Brown is the most visible non-white non-player in the organization.

The 49ers are owned by a white family, with a white GM, white team president and white head coach. Years ago, Terry Tumey was the director of football administration; now vice president Keena Turner is the most visible Black person in the front office. According to a recent study by The Athletic that broke down coaching staffs by diversity, the 49ers are currently in the top third of the league in terms of diversity, with 42% of its staff made up of minority coaches (10 as opposed to 14 white coaches).

Neither San Jose franchise, the Sharks nor the Earthquakes, has an African American in its most visible positions of authority.

How can this be the portrait of a place that shaped generations of athlete activists, from Tommie Smith and John Carlos to Colin Kaepernick? Where decision makers such as Al Davis and Bill Walsh pushed for inclusion? Where revolutionary thinkers such as Curt Flood and Bill Russell have roots?

Sociologist and civil rights activist Harry Edwards has devoted most of his life to studying diversity in sports. Ask the UC Berkeley professor emeritus about progress and you will get a history lesson that begins with the causes behind desegregation on the field and how that differs from integrating positions of power. He speaks of the moves made decades ago by Raiders owner Davis and 49ers head coach Walsh.

But its not enough to have the drama of the individual act, Edwards said. Al Davis hired the first modern era Black coach, the first female CEO, the first Latino coach. But once he was gone, who stepped in to carry on the tradition? For all Bill did, nobody carried it on after Bill was gone.

You have to have something institutionalized. You have to build scaffolding.

Walsh, who brought Edwards in as a consultant to the 49ers in 1983, did leave behind some scaffolding. In 1987, he began a minority internship program, since taken over by the NFL and now called the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship. Of all the men of color who have become head coaches in the modern NFL, more than half came through the internship program or were on Walshs staff. He built a pipeline, one that gave aspiring young coaches the opportunity to work on NFL teams and learn what was required and expected. More than 2,000 men and women have been through it.

But the pipeline is now plugged: When the season started, the league had just three Black head coaches, the same as in 2003, the year the Rooney Rule was adopted. But that has also failed to significantly change the ratio in the league.

Internships and intentional networking remain key ways to identify and prepare candidates for both coaching and front office positions, aspirants who might not otherwise have access or opportunities.

We can continue to keep a mindful eye, said Stanfords Muir, especially being on a college campus. This is where the next group of leaders are coming from.

Muir is a member of the Black AD Alliance that was formed this summer. He said that one of the groups charges, is to really mentor folks. It starts with student athletes, who have played a sport and are in leadership positions.

What is clear is that the lack of progress is not reflective of a large and ambitious pool of candidates. During the pandemic, San Jose State assistant coach Alonzo Carter started a Zoom networking call for Black football coaches that drew hundreds of aspiring coaches every week, to share stories, learn strategies and connect.

All we can control is what we can control, Carter said. Its no secret whats going on. The numbers dont lie. This is a nationwide issue. What were trying to do is have more qualified candidates of color so that when we get the opportunity, were ready to do the job and take on the role.

Browns Zoom calls, which took place every week for almost four months, also tapped into a large, hungry base of potential applicants.

People want to know how to get better, how to learn the job, Brown said.

One question Myers fielded when he joined the call was whether the Warriors will set up an internship something that Myers said is being explored.

Brown sees so much emphasis on diversity in hiring coaches, but notes that they are the most disposable members of the power structure. GMs and presidents have longer tenures.

And if you want sustainable change a lot of it falls on ownership, Brown said. Theyre the ones in it for the long haul.

Thats where Dave Stewart, the former As pitcher and Diamondbacks general manager, is focusing. Hes involved in a Nashville group hoping to land an expansion MLB team, one that is committed to having 51% minority ownership.

It creates a great opportunity for baseball to make a statement that theyre willing to break a ceiling that hasnt happened in this sport, said Stewart, who has called baseballs structure closed. Major League Baseball tells you they have a system in place. But the system doesnt work.

More and more, baseball is emphasizing analytics when filling front office positions: A recent ESPN study found that 43% of baseball operations top decision-making positions were filled by Ivy League graduates; 67% come from the top 25 universities in the country. Which means that already homogeneous front offices are drawing from the least diverse pools of candidates available.

The lack of diversity is an issue, for sports in general, and for baseball, Zaidi said. Its a big concern. A lot of the hiring you see now, is a reflection of the pipeline development from five to ten years ago. So we have a lot of work to do.

All of the Bay Area sports teams have work to do. We like to think our sports legacy is one of inclusion. But thats not the reality right now.

I cant speak for every organization, but we have to improve, we have to get better, said Myers. I dont think weve done a very good job. We all look too much the same.

I think its very fair to ask the question and to look at how were doing. Because we dont have it right.

Ann Killion is a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. email: akillion@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @annkillion

Born in San Francisco and raised in Marin County, Ann Killion has covered Bay Area sports for more than a quarter of a century. An award-winning columnist and a veteran of 11 Olympics, several World Cups and the Tour de France, Ann joined The Chronicle in 2012. Ann has worked for the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times and Sports Illustrated. She is a New York Times best-selling author, having co-written "Solo: A Memoir of Hope" with soccer star Hope Solo,"Throw Like A Girl" with softball player Jennie Finch and two middle-grade books on soccer, Champions of Womens Soccer and Champions of Mens Soccer. She was named California Sportswriter of the Year in 2014, 2017 and 2018. She has two children and lives in Mill Valley.

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We dont have it right: Bay Area sports teams struggle to diversify leadership - San Francisco Chronicle

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