Illustration by Nikki Muller
Slowly but surely, minority women are leading high-level sports organizations at a growing rate. Against all of the odds that society has placed against them, minority women in sports leadership are striving and thriving in a space that few have been able to access. In hindsight, it was long overdue as women have made leadership inroads in professional sports for years. As a self-proclaimed feminist, I have always held dear the importance of allyship in the fight for gender equality. Bringing light to this important revelation in the 21st century is something that I cherish.
Unbeknownst to many, successful minority women have attained leadership roles in preeminent sports organizations such as the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabers (Kim Pegula, President), Colorado Rockies (Linda Alvarado, Co-Owner), NY Liberty (Keia Clarke, Chief Executive Officer), National Football League (Dasha Smith, Chief Administrative Officer), Major League Soccer (Marisabel Munoz, Senior Vice President of Communications), Los Angeles Lakers (Keisha Nix, Vice President), Las Vegas Raiders (Sandra Douglass Morgan, Team President), Cleveland Cavaliers (Shelly Cayette Weston, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer), Los Angeles Dodgers (Nichol Whiteman, CEO of the Dodgers Foundation), National Hockey League (Kim Davis, Senior Executive Vice President), National Basketball Association (Gbemisola Abudu, Vice President and Head of Nigeria for NBA Africa), Miami Marlins (Kim Ng, President) and Detroit Tigers (Ellen Hill Zeringue, Vice President of Marketing). These flagship organizations are at the pinnacle of U.S. sports and indicate a prominent timestamp in the evolution of diversity, equality and inclusion.
Now I wouldn’t call this a golden age of representation, as I still believe the numbers pale in comparison to white men and minority male groups, but I do believe the timing of this occurrence does symbolize a silver lining of happenstance for sustained equity in professional sports leadership as minority women are finally getting the recognition they deserve.
Last year, Sports Illustrated revealed a list of 100 influential Black and minority women in sports that brought to light not only a litany of accomplishments but provided a platform for each of them to tell a detailed story about their respective journeys. While the exemplification of these success stories matters, the truth behind these phenomenal women is an inspirational and heartwarming layer of persistence in spite of an unclear destination.
The unclear path
As we celebrate Women’s History Month on the heels of Black History Month, I am in awe of the stories of dedication, discipline and determination exhibited by Black and minority women leaders in sports. The industry is ripe with pitfalls and obstacles. For a woman to navigate a career in sports is as tough or harder as almost any career path, especially when you consider the white male-dominated history of exclusionary practices.
It is not for the faint of heart and could be a perilous journey at times when considering the lack of a sustained pipeline for social capital and networking. Organizations such as the Women’s Sports Foundation, Women in Sports + Events and the Black Women in Sport Foundation have fought the good fight to bring support and resources for women leaders in sports. Another group called the Minorities in Sports Business led by Shaina Weil has sought to disrupt the status quo by using community organizing to bridge the gap between preparation and opportunity for women seeking positions in sports leadership. It should be no surprise to see women in leadership roles in sports organizations but it remains more of an exception than a rule.
Intersectionality in practice
The phenomenon of intersectionality in sports explains the impact of sexism and racism on the plight of women aspiring to leadership positions. Rooted in Black female epistemologies such as Bell Hooks’ double-bind ideology, the professional landscape for minority women is fraught with a constant need to either prove worthiness or dispel imposter syndrome. Unlike male minority groups who battle racism and white women who fight to transcend sexism, Black and minority women of color systematically battle both at the same time.
It is time for a reckoning for minority women
What we need is a sustained consistent acknowledgment of minority women in sports leadership. A reckoning of sorts where there is an emphatic charge to change the narrative for the successes of minority women on a larger scale for more than just Women’s History Month.
There isn’t a need for handouts or token gestures. What is required is a true investment in the value of what minority women bring to positions of leadership. Acknowledging the past successes of minority women is a start but more emphasis on providing equitable inclusion in the sports leadership space is where the future lies.
This is evident from Mark Davis’ approach. The Las Vegas Raiders owner stated that when he met Sandra Douglass Morgan he knew she was a “force to be reckoned with,” which is why he hired her as the first woman team president in NFL history. It’s time for the rest of the decision-makers and hiring managers in the sports business industry to take heed of Davis’s insight and see the light when it comes to the value of minority women.