Derek Jeter got a small piece, but Reggie Jackson was denied.
Magic Johnson got a smaller piece, but Joe Morgan was sent away.
Michael Jordan got a small piece and eventually was approved to have the largest piece of a pie typically unavailable to Black men and women, regardless of wealth or fame.
There are 92 major American sports franchises -- 32 in the NFL, 30 in each the NBA and MLB -- and Jordan is the only African American to achieve majority ownership. Jeter owns four percent of the Marlins, Johnson 2.3 percent of the Dodgers.
Morgan and Jackson each were members of separate groups attempting to buy the A’s before Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann decided to sell to John Fisher and Lew Wolff, who had a 50-year friendship with then-commissioner Bud Selig
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Black athletes, retired and active, are determined to change that. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, among others, have expressed an interest in sports ownership; Durant last month bought a five-percent share of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union.
As panelists on “Race In America: A Candid Conversation,” Friday night at 8 on NBC Sports Bay Area, retired players Caron Butler (NBA) and Donte Whitner (NFL) discussed the need for representation beyond the player level. Specifically, ownership and management.
“We get to that point by continuing to shine a light on the problem, right?” Butler says.
“Michael Jordan has done a remarkable job with his stance and his endowment to social injustice, speaking out for the first time,” Butler added. “A lot of said it was a huge joke, but at the same time it was a hell of a point. Michael Jordan don’t speak out on a lot of things, but when he comes to the forefront and gets on the front line and says, ‘Look, this is a problem. This is a real issue,” that should let everyone, all these institutions, these equity firms, and all these people out there know that, look, this is a problem in America.”
Pointing out that money is the biggest impediment to ownership, Whitner implies that some of this is up to the players to fix while also alleging those at the top of the NFL create barriers by engaging in subtle forms of oppression.
“It starts with education,” he says. “There are guys in the NFL and NBA that don’t really understand what public and private equity are, what public markets are and what the private markets are.
“Until we educate the players on what these things actually mean, and they sit down and understand, we’ll be a long way away from there. That’s one of the reasons why you never see the NFLPA and NFL link up and have a private equity event. I don’t think they really want one of the athletes to realize what private equity is, be able to invest in it and then come with enough capital one day to be able to buy one of your teams. We’re a long, long ways from that.”
All Jordan had to do to join the club was, first, become the most globally famous player in the history of his sport and, second, polish his status as a cultural icon to such a shine that he became a billionaire – and, according to Forbes, the richest retired athlete on earth.
If anyone deserved a fat slice of the NBA’s ownership pie, it’s MJ. He is one of 91 (The Green Bay Packers are publicly owned, with more than 300,000 shareholders, including Sir Paul McCartney).
One level below ownership are the executive offices, which are sparsely populated with Black faces. The percentage of Black representation at that level -- president, vice president, general manager, manager, head coach etc. -- is modest in the NBA, abysmal in the NFL and beyond embarrassing in MLB.
Though it takes big dollars to enter the owner’s club, the executive level should be more accessible. But no. Only 6.7 percent of MLB GMs are Black, according to the annual Racial and Gender Report issued by Dr. Richard Lapchick at The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). In the NFL, with African Americans accounting for nearly 70 percent of the rosters, the GM percentage is at 10 percent.
“These institutions have to be held accountable,” says Butler, a voting advocate and vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter. “You have to talk about it. It has to be, ‘Look, this is the problem. Systemically, this has been the problem.’ And let’s face it: We have brothers out here that are way more qualified that a lot of people that are in those positions.
“So, all they need is the opportunity. And I’m telling you, they’re going to run with it.”
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Among the three sports, the NBA has been the best listener and the most inclusive, increasing from three Black GMs in 2017-18 to nine this week with the official hiring of Calvin Booth by the Denver Nuggets.
The NBA seems to realize best that there are benefits to having management that at least attempts to resemble the makeup of its most valuable assets.
The brutal death of George Floyd started a movement, one in which it is fashionable for white individuals to publicly support long-denied equality for Black people. To be determined is whether it’s a trend, a spasm of humanity or an actual desire for equality and representation at all levels of America’s changing demographics.