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The Growing Impact of Diversity and Inclusion in Professional Sports – Part 1

A dude hitting a golf put with a mask on

Diversity and inclusion are increasingly being recognized as drivers of innovation. For businesses, diversity and inclusion provide the means to develop unique core competencies that award success. However,  have these insights made their way into the major sports organizations as well? Does diversity in professional sports foster better team performance and success among sports organizations? For many major sports leagues, there is now a recognition of the importance of diversity in professional sports. Those that embrace diversity and inclusion as key concepts will likely be well positioned as the sports leaders of tomorrow. And, there are many reasons why diversity is important including the health and relevance of the business of major league sports.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.” – Nelson Mandela

Bold Business spoke with diversity leaders in the sporting world during the 12th Diversity MBA Annual National Conference. USTA Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer D.A. Abrams and Major League Baseball Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Renee Tirado talked about leveling the playing field for all athletes – regardless of gender, sexuality or race.

The Impact of Diversity in Professional Sports

The reasons for the importance of diversity in sports can be examined from different perspectives. At an individual level, inclusion in sports has many benefits. Participation not only builds self-esteem, but it also creates a sense of connection with others. For communities and organizations that promote inclusion in sports, cultures of respect and teamwork naturally evolve.  Collectively, so much more can be achieved. Diversity in professional sports offers the same advantages.

In businesses and communities alike, diversity and inclusion allow the realization of goals and accomplishments.  Diversity is so important in these situations +because it promotes creativity, unique perspectives, and new opportunities. Diversity in professional sports allows sports teams to thrive in a similar way. In fact, studies involving European soccer teams have shown that increasing levels of diversity yield better performance on the field. Through creativity, cooperation, and avoidance of groupthink, a number of sports teams can compete at a higher level.

Bold Leaders of Diversity in Professional Sports

If you haven’t noticed, many sports organizations appreciate the reasons why diversity is important. These bold leaders have “awakened” to the fact that diversity in professional sports provides many advantages. These advantages go well beyond the sporting arena. Bold Business interviewed several of the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers for the USTA, MLB, NASCAR and PGA at the Diversity MBA 12th Annual National Conference to get a better understanding of the impact diversity is having on professional sports.

United States Tennis Association (USTA)

The USTA has been a leader in diversity in professional sports for some time now. From the Williams sisters to rising star Sloane Stevens, the USTA has invested in inclusion cultures throughout its ranks. David Anthony (D.A.) Abrams, USTA’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, acknowledges the many reasons why diversity is important.

As Abrams puts it, “Our ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to diversifying the sport [is] for the good of the sport.” This not only recruits new members to the sport, but it raises the level of play across the board.

Major League Baseball (MLB)

You may not realize it, but MLB was the first professional sports league to have a diversity and inclusion office. Today, MLB has a global outreach not only for viewership but for talent recruitment. But MLB’s diversity and inclusion efforts do not stop there, according to Renee Tirado, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

Tirado notes, “We’re going to have a training and development opportunity and networking event to [encourage] women who want to be coaches and trainers, etc.” Not only can these efforts produce positive results on the field, but they can also produce advantages for the league as well.


For decades, NASCAR has struggled with diversity in professional sports personnel. So, in 2004, NASCAR launched its Drive for Diversity Program to promote driver diversity. But in 2009, the program was expanded to achieve diversity among crew members as well. The results? Every NASCAR fan certainly appreciates that Danica Patrick and Darrell Wallace, Jr., have made tremendous impacts in fan viewership. But nearly half of all Drive for Diversity Crew Member Program recent graduates work for NASCAR today.

According to Dawn Harris, Senior Director of Diversity Affairs for NASCAR, “Driver diversity is…just the tip of the iceberg.”

PGA of America

A major part of the PGA’s mission is to encourage participation in the sport. Because of this, diversity and inclusion are key strategies employed to realize these goals. Sandy Cross, PGA’s Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion, is committed to attracting all types of players to the sport. This is occurring through a variety of local and national programs.

As she notes, “To grow participation…you have to do that through the changing landscape of America. It is increasingly multicultural.” Notably, the PGA is targeting not only women and minority golfers but also the inclusion of the LGBT community and those with a disability.

The Secret to Diversity’s Success and Reasons Why Diversity is Important

While the reasons why diversity is important in sports is supported by evidence, some studies have found contrary results. This is likely due to the fact that creating diversity in professional sports is not enough by itself. True leadership is essential, and sports organizations with effective leadership in diversity and inclusion often make the difference. Through effective communication, support of participation, and expression of shared goals, better performance can be realized. These important leadership ingredients create a culture of respect and inclusion where diversity thrives. As evidenced by today’s diversity in professional sports leaders, these reflect the secrets for success both today and in the future.

In part 2 of the impact of diversity in professional sports, Bold Business will recognize the bold men and women who broke the diversity barrier in sports.

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