The topic to be examined is sport leadership and issues surrounding it. In Western societies as well as globally, sport is a massive industry and one of the most popular activities supported by untold numbers of nations. Sport is, certainly in the West, both a means of entertainment and considered a measure of a country’s well-being and sense of unity, and Americans in particular demonstrate a virtual mania for both collegiate and professional sports. Nonetheless, there are issues, and particularly in regard to leadership. Women remain grossly under-represented in leadership positions, just as ethnic minorities are also not adequately placed in such roles. As sport tends to reflect the ideologies of the society, so too must it then reflect longstanding biases, and this very much appears to be the reality with the industry. Apart from sport, women and minorities have made great strides in social matters such as employment opportunity and increased respect expressed by society. At the same time, however, it seems that the masculine and white traditions of sports leadership continue to block real opportunity. This in turn relates to how women and minorities are still perceived by sport leadership as players and, how, despite some progress, significant inequality remains for both groups.
In the following, then, gender issues are explored, and in terms of female participation in sport and ongoing bias. Then, the roles of minorities are addressed, as the evidence supports a white and male dominance in leadership. Old traditions seem to dictate and this is assessed in how women and minorities are under-represented in leadership. Ultimately, how sport leadership continues to reflect traditional practices is examined below, as it emerges that this leadership remains largely a male and white prerogative.
Research and Discussion
To begin with, the minimal numbers of women and minorities in positions of sport leadership relates directly to how these groups participate in sports as players. More exactly, the evidence reveals that, while there is greater participation from these groups,
there remains strong resistance to female participation, which is based on Western norms and gender attitudes: “Notions of gender differ between regions, and the meaning of gender is translated through cultural ideologies of femininity and masculinity” (Larkin, Razack, & Moola, 2007, p. 95). Progress regarding gender has certainly been made. In 1972, for example, less than 300,000 women were involved in interscholastic sports, as compared to 3.6 million men; as of 2014, over 3.2 million women participate, set against 4.4 million men (Borland, Burton, & Kane, 2014, p. 110). Nonetheless, the arena of professional sports segregates women, as masculine leadership relies on the thinking that women may not physically compete with men by virtue of weaker physicality.
Greatly contributing to the gender inequality within sports leadership is what has been identified as gender passivity. More exactly, and even as male coaches and managers admit to the limited roles of women in leadership, they generally take no responsibility for the imbalances, nor do they perceive any obligation on their parts to change the systems in place that deny women opportunity (Nixon, 2015, p. 68). Even as, then, women are playing in far greater numbers at collegiate levels, bias remains in place and the typically male leadership is largely unconcerned with altering the status quo.
Regarding ethnic minorities in both player and leadership roles, a different scenario exists, yet one also reflecting cultural bias and limitations of opportunity. Interestingly, and while minority groups are over-represented in both collegiate and professional sports like football, the leadership is typically white. Over 90 percent of head coaching positions at the collegiate level, for example, are held by whites. This reality fueled efforts by the Black Coaches and Administrators (BCA) association to place pressure on the schools, in order to make the positions more equitable regarding race (Hanold, 2012, p. 160). The efforts are ongoing, but white males continue to dominate leadership roles in sport, so it is reasonable to conclude that, as with gender, cultural bias encourages the maintaining of the white male authority.
That authority also goes to leadership as promoting different minorities in specific ways, in terms of players. In professional baseball, for example, Latinos are extremely well-represented, but are not significantly present in other sports (Woods, p. 220). It appears that sport leadership tends to rely on ethnic stereotypes, in that certain abilities identified in one minority group “pigeonhole” that group, and further opportunity in other sports is neglected. It must be reiterated that the evidence strongly goes to traditionally white and masculine sport leadership as dependent on viewpoints of the past. If women participate in far greater numbers today and minorities are widely seen in college and professional teams, the absence of these groups in leadership roles reinforces white, male control as still dominant in the industry at large.
When various studies and examples of research are explored, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that sport very much relies on antiquated biases regarding women and minorities, and that its leadership functions in ways supporting the maintaining of white male authority. If leaders in sport assert that, for example, women are physically incapable of competing with men, this is nonetheless removed from the challenges of leadership. Similarly, coaches and managers exhibit thinking defining certain minorities as best-suited for specific sports, just as minorities are still largely absent in the ranks of leaders. Some change has occurred but the ultimate reality still in place is that sport leadership remains a male and white prerogative or role, as it has been traditionally.
- Borland, J. F., Burton, L. J., & Kane, G. M. (2014). Sport Leadership in the 21st Century. Sudbury: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
- Hanold, M. (2012). World Sports: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
- Larkin, J., Razack, S., & Moola, F. (2007). Gender, sport and development. Literature Reviews on Sport for Development and Peace, 89-123.
- Nixon, H. L. (2015). Sport in a Changing World. New York: Routledge.
- Woods, R. B. (2015). Social Issues in Sport, 2nd Ed. Champaign: Human Kinetics.