Job Guide for People of Color in Sports
The sports industry is a multibillion dollar global industry, with hundreds of jobs for almost every interest. Many of us grow up participating in sports and/or have a love for athletics. These experiences can very much provide us with a foundation for success in sports careers. Sometimes though, turning this passion into a career can seem overwhelming to navigate and you might not know where to begin.
The sports industry is very competitive and people of color also face unique hardships when trying to break into this industry. In this guide, we’re going to break down some of the things you should know about people of color in athletics and give you some tips on pursuing a sports-related job.
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Unique Challenges Faced By People Of Color
The global sports-industry brings in billions of dollars each year, and is projected to continue this rapid growth. It’s predicted to reach $614 billion by 2022. However, the sport’s industry is a highly-competitive place to look for jobs partially because of how many people love athletics!
The Data Shows A Lack of Diversity
While the market is generally competitive, people of color are disproportionately affected by the difficulties associated with getting a career in sports. Not that long ago, diversity in sports not only didn’t exist, it was actually forbidden. The effects of this are still being felt today and you unfortunately might experience this at some point in your professional journey.
Despite very high numbers of Black players in all levels of sports- with some of the highest performing players being Black (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Lebron James, etc)- on the business side of sports Blacks and other minorities are severely underrepresented.
Each year, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) creates a report on the representation of minorities and women in the sports industry. The Annual Report Card in 2020 shows that in the Fall of 2020, 79.9% of athletic directors were white. This study was based only on Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, but still indicates that the biggest power houses in sports are not diverse. There were just 22 athletic directors of color!
Another study, done by the Diversity and Inclusion Report showed that from 2019-2020, 31 positions in the NFL were hired and only 7 of them were men of color. Accounting for firings, promotions, retirements, and other forms of job partings, the number of men of color actually only increased by one.
Women also experience a gap when it comes to jobs in athletics. For more information on this, check out our Women In Sports Guide.
Don’t let any of this discourage you! While diversity and inclusion is not perfect yet, improvements have been made and there are places you can look for inspiration and guidance.
Many industries rely on relationships and connections to get your foot in the door or to make promotions. But for the sports-industry, this is even more prevalent and very often jobs are offered to those who have a relationship to someone in the organization.
Why does this present challenges for people of color? Because these organizations have historically been (and still often are) led by individuals who might not have many minority connections, positions are not naturally passed on to people of color. Further, this leaves people of color without role models. Role models play a major role in bringing about change. These issues naturally continue on, which is why it is so widely celebrated when a high-level position is taken by a person of color for the first time.
Workforce initiatives have generally improved diversity and inclusion in the workforce, but this doesn’t say much for the sports-industry considering how large the discrepancy was several years ago. There is still much work to be done.
Fortunately, there have been several advancements made with the goal of increasing diversity in the front office.
Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives in Sports
The Black AD Alliance
In the Summer of 2020, 50 Athletic Directors of Division I programs came together and created the Black Athletic Director Alliance. It’s mission is “to promote the growth, development, and elevation of Black athletics administrators at the Division I level.
The mission of the Diversity Pipeline program is “to identify, develop and grow the pool of qualified minority and female candidates for on-field and baseball operations positions throughout the industry.”
Creation of Diversity and Inclusion Positions
In 2014, the Atlanta Hawks hired Nzinga Shaw as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. She was the first person in NBA history to hold this title. Many other athletic programs have also created a position with similar responsibilities. The New York Mets created a Director of Diversity, Opportunity, Inclusion and Training position. The MLB created a Chief People and Culture Officer position.
Successful People of Color in Sports
The lack of people of color holding high positions of power in sports is unfortunate, but there are many influential minority figures in these roles to celebrate and learn from!
In 2019, Nicole Lynn was the first black woman to represent a top 5 draft NFL pick. Not only was she just the third woman ever, she was also the first black woman to represent a first-round draft pick. In an interview with Glamour, she mentions how many people said her dream to become a top agent was crazy and that one of the reasons she succeeded was because she tuned out the noise.
Mike Tomlin is a black NFL head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers and at age 36 he became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl game. He also holds the most wins by a Black NFL coach in history. (140 regular season games!)
Another influential woman of color in sports is Kim Ng who became the first Asian and the first female General Manager in baseball. She is with the Miami Marlins and her success sets an important new precedent for the world of baseball and sports in general. Kim Ng applied for similar roles for many years prior to reaching this level, all of which turned her down.
Kim Ng acknowledges the importance of her historical achievement and wants to encourage others to keep striving.
“If you work hard and you persevere, and you’re driven and you just keep going…eventually your dream will come true.” -Kim Ng, interview with Five Reasons Sports Network
Tony Clark is the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Dubbed by Huffington Post as “the most important man in baseball,” Clark is the first person of color to hold this position. He notably declares that he has a “responsibility to leave the game better than it was left to” him.
How To Approach Networking
Whether you’re just starting to develop your career, or are looking to expand your connections, the ability to network will play a major role in your professional life. Many of the skills you learn through participation in sports- of any level- can transfer into skills to use in your job search and to be successful in a rewarding career.
Networking can feel like a lot to handle, so try using these tips to make the process more manageable.
Find Groups, Networks, or Conventions for People of Color
Pre-established groups and events for people of color interested in sports-related jobs is one of the best collections of resources you have at your disposal. Joining networks and professional organizations with members who already work in, or are interested in getting into, a career of your same interest is a great way to make connections or meet people who can give you opportunities.
LinkedIn is a powerful tool when it comes to networking, applying for jobs, and learning about business. Join groups and get to know others who can teach you how to use your skills to advance your career in sports and meet people for opportunities. Consider introducing yourself to these two groups.
The BDSE was created in recognition of the “need for more programs supporting the importance of diversity in the front office.” Check out their website to learn how they’re supporting getting more minorities and women into the industry.
The MOAA “provides opportunities to exchange ideas, advocate increased participation and administrative opportunities for minorities in athletics.” This resource holds a symposium, has a community for exchanging ideas, and sends out articles, resources, and opportunities to their network.
Make Sure You Prepare
For most jobs in the sports-industry, it’s really important that you know your stuff. Athletics are highly technical, strategic, and organized operations and it can be really obvious to potential employers when you don’t know enough to be successful in your chosen career. That being said, you will learn as you go, so it’s important to also be open to mentors or practice being a good learner.
Organization and time management are skills you learn as an athlete yourself, when you must juggle school, training, competitions, and other parts of your life all at the same time. Making sure you create successful habits as an athlete and student will help set you up for a rewarding career in a field that you are passionate about.
Take Advantage of Opportunities
We can’t sugar coat it: the sports-industry can be difficult to break into. When opportunities present themselves, take advantage of them! Getting your foot in the door and making a good first impression when you do get in can go a really long way when getting jobs in sports-related fields.
Perhaps you’re already on a team, or you go to a school that has internships or volunteer positions available for “behind the scenes” roles at sporting events. Use the relationships and natural opportunities that present themselves in these situations to learn and grow your future career.
Utilize Skills And Knowledge Learned From Athletics
As we mentioned earlier, we learn endless skills, values, and lessons through sports. What makes you successful as an athlete? Take some time to think about your stronger attributes when playing your sport and how you can use them to reach your career goals. Understanding that the knowledge and experience as an athlete is highly valued can help you find confidence and impress potential employers!
There are many skills you use as an athlete that will also make you successful in a career. Make sure these shine through in your professional interactions!
Battling Adversity and Challenges
Using Constructive Criticism
Perseverance, or Never Giving Up
Staying Calm Under Pressure
Working On Teams
Learning From Mistakes
Focus and Commitment to Goals
With many sports-related career options and paths available, there is a place for any number of interests and skills in the industry. Wherever your interests lie, there’s bound to be something in the world of sports for you to try.
Here are some of the main categories that you can choose from when you’re interested in pursuing a career in sports.
Professional athletes compete in their sport as a career; their performance is how they make their living. Most sports have their own teams or leagues for professional competitions, but only a select few athletes reach this level. There can, however, be different levels of professional sports, depending on which sport you are considering. As an example, we’ll consider football and it’s league, the NFL. The NCAA reported in 2020 that out of 73,712 NCAA participants in the sport of football, just 1.6% were drafted to a professional team.
Many athletes consider coaching after they finish competing themselves or even while they are still competing to teach other groups their knowledge. Coaches are also just lovers of the sport they coach, whether they played it very long or not. Coaching is a great way to take on a leadership role in your sport at any level, from youth to professional.
To get a coaching job, you should plan to have a college degree and you might also consider having a teaching certificate. And of course, you’ll need to have experience in the sport you are coaching. Coaches are leaders who love to motivate and guide others, have strong interpersonal skills to work with many different types of people, and have good empathy skills, which mean they understand the feelings of their players.
The category of sports medicine is broad, but these are some of the most common careers to consider. Generally speaking, sports medicine careers deal with physical fitness, treatment of injuries sustained through sports, and preventative methods for exercise induced injuries.
Sports Medicine Doctor
Sports medicine doctors are doctors who specialize in treating athletes. Not only do they help heal musculoskeletal injuries (stress fractures, ankle sprains, ACL injuries, etc), but they also help prevent injuries from happening by teaching athletes preventative techniques. This career requires several years of schooling, including a medical school residency and a fellowship in sports medicine. You also need board certification.
A sport’s psychologist treats athletes’ mental health. For this role, you would have to pursue the same type of schooling and training as a licensed psychologist, which is at least 8 years. Their training focuses on the challenges and stressors that athletes face. Just like the medical doctor, psychologists must have their doctorate, participate in clinicals, and receive board certification.
This role is for someone who wants to evaluate athletes and help them with preventative and rehabilitation techniques. Athletic trainers often travel directly with sport’s teams or work with specific teams at the collegiate level. This job typically requires a bachelor’s degree and a certification exam.
There are several types of physical therapists (PT), all with similar schooling and training, but there are many PTs who specialize in treating athletic injuries and helping athletes avoid injury. Becoming a physical therapist requires an advanced degree and participation in clinals to obtain the license.
This job is perfect for those interested in diet and nutrition who also want to work with athletes. Sports nutritionists help athletes fuel their bodies for performance by guiding them through proper nutrition and diet. This role requires further schooling after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, typically in nutrition or sport’s nutrition. You will need a state’s license and to receive a Registered Dietitian Certification at minimum.
Team management positions are more on the administrative side of sporting events and athletic teams. Team managers/general managers handle business affairs of teams, such as finances, media, or recruiting. They typically hold a master’s degree or certification in business or sports administration, or have several years of experience. Another common role in team management is an athletic director, who manages the affairs of high school or collegiate athletic programs.
There are many “behind the scenes” jobs in the sport’s industry that help market, televise, produce events, and more for athletics. Here are some common jobs you might consider when interested in working in sports.
Sports Journalist, Announcer, or Commentator
These positions typically require getting your bachelor’s degree in journalism, communication, or broadcasting. Following this, you will most likely want to secure intern positions and take on as many opportunities as possible. These roles help inform the general public about sporting events and athletes before, during, and after a given sport’s season.
Public Relations, Marketing, and Advertising
Again, these types of roles in sports usually only require receiving a Bachelor’s degree and then working your way up the ladder. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in these fields, or related fields, is also helpful. It is also worth considering learning about data and market analytics to learn the best advertising strategies for teams, players, and other facets of the sport’s industry.
For more information about specific degrees and career options in sports, check out our career page.
Diversity and inclusion are not where they need to be in the sports-industry, but you can help become the change and improve the world of sports with your passion and your skills. Utilizing the skills it takes to play a sport, learning how to network, looking to influential people of color in the front office, and taking the right steps to get the proper degrees are all great ways to land a rewarding career in sports.
SportsDegreesOnline.org exists to be a helpful resource for you on your career path and as you strive to reach your goals. If you are a high school student hoping to begin exploring undergraduate degree programs, please check out our guide for Choosing the Best Sports Degree Program. Here we go into greater detail about the Bachelor Degree options available. We also have a guide for exploring scholarship opportunities.
For information on further schooling to receive advanced degrees, we have a Guide for Master Degrees to assist those of you who have already completed their Bachelor’s degree. Another helpful resource is this Internship Guide to help you search for sport’s internships in 2021.