The Leading Driver Of Diversity In Sports Journalism? It’s ESPN

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport has released its 2012 study of minorities and women covering sports at America’s news outlets this week, and unfortunately, its findings haven’t changed much since it released its first study in 2006.

According to the Institute, 90 percent of sports editors are white and an equal percentage are men. As the first chart below shows, whites make up at least 86 percent of all assistant editors, columnists, reporters, and copy editors covering sports too. And as the second chart shows, at least 80 percent of those in each category are men:

The most interesting part of the study, though, is that without the world’s largest sports outlet, the numbers would be far worse. ESPN is the target of constant (often deserved) complaints in the world of sports journalism, but when it comes to diversity, the Worldwide Leader is leading the way, as the Institute’s president Richard Lapchick wrote at Sports Business Daily:

In the new report card, of the 12 people of color who are sports editors at “Circulation A” media outlets (the largest newspapers and dot-coms, with a circulation of 175,000 or more), four work for ESPN, which employed two of the six African-American sports editors and two of the four Latino sports editors. If ESPN’s people of color were removed, the percentage of sports editors in the “A” organizations who are people of color would drop from 15 percent to 11 percent.

Of the 11 women who are sports editors at this circulation level, six work for ESPN. If the ESPN sports editors who are women were removed, then the percentage of female sports editors at this level would drop from 14 percent to 8 percent.

Those numbers translate down the ladder too. Without ESPN, the percentage of columnists of color working at top outlets would drop from 20 percent to just 7 percent. Without ESPN, the percentage of female columnists at top outlets would drop from an already-low 13 percent to just 5 percent.


Indeed, ESPN has a strong diversity hiring policy outlined on its web site and it has won numerous awards for hiring a diverse cast writers, editors, and columnists. It regularly features minority and female hosts, analysts, announcers, and journalists on both its scheduled programming and its live broadcasts. ESPN is proof that there are qualified minority and female reporters and editors out there, and it is also proof that the rest of the sports world needs to do a better job finding them.

But ESPN also has the benefit of being able to cherrypick from the entire sports world, since most of its reporters are already established names before they join the Worldwide Leader, so the idea that this is a problem that begins and ends with the hiring process fails to explain the problem entirely. The problem starts well before hiring and runs far deeper.

As Chip Cosby, a sports reporter and former colleague of mine, explained in September, minorities face obstacles involving access, economics, and history. Many young minorities don’t see journalism as a way into sports, and many are less able to pursue jobs that are pretty low-paying before a reporter climbs the rungs to a top beat or columnist job. Even if they wanted to pursue writing, many don’t see it as a profession that is accessible to them, since they don’t often see minority reporters writing and talking about the sports they follow. Most of those problems also extend to women, who still face stigmas when reporting on sports, especially when they cover men.

Many of those problems are beginning to fade, thanks in large part to ESPN, which has made both minority and female sports reporters covering sports more visible and prominent. But as the latest edition of the Institute study make clear, many of the barriers blocking both minorities and women from entering the world of sportswriting still exist.