US President Donald Trump’s feud with American sportsmen reignited on Sunday with NFL player Colin Kaepernick denying a report that he would stand again for the national anthem if given a chance to play again. This comes 14 months after Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, began kneeling during the national anthem in protest against injustice faced by black people in the United States.
Through the entire controversy, which reached its peak last month when several sportspersons across leagues in the US began kneeling down during the national anthem, a clear fault line emerged over the racial imbalance in ownership of major American sports teams.
Kaepernick is currently a free agent after his contract expired in July. No team has since signed him, an aberration considering he’s one of sport’s best quarterbacks. His protest is seen as an act of defiance that doesn’t sit well with team owners, a small proportion of whom publicly supported Donald Trump’s campaign.
Two weeks ago, the US president’s attack culminated in a show of solidarity by players across the various leagues kneeling in protest. Unconsciously, he sparked off a debate about how a significant number of team owners in these leagues are skewed towards white men.
It is fairly common knowledge that leagues such as the NBA and the NFL are largely dominated by black players, but comparing those numbers off the field, the demographic divide becomes more apparent.
The NBA, widely considered the most progressive of all the leagues and often supports players political positions is predominantly black – nearly three-fourths of its players are black. However, 91% of its team owners are white.
The NFL’s statistics were even more jarring. It had only one non-white owner – Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s particularly bad for league that has nearly 70% black players.
But the divide isn’t just geared towards black players and white owners. In Major League Baseball, about a third of all players were of latino descent. Only a fraction of that number were represented in ownership and management, which were both dominated by white men.
Coaches too were also mainly white men. Only the NBA had a relatively diverse mix of players, coaches and support staff according to an annual study conducted by the The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
Among financially less lucrative leagues and sports, the gaps are abhorrent. This gulf could largely be attributed to the lack of participation of non-white audiences in the sport. For example, NASCAR, the US’s most watched motorsport has a television viewership that draws 94% of its audience from white viewers. There is also a lack of non-white race drivers on its roster.
The National Hockey League, another sport dominated by white men in nearly every part of the game. All 30 teams have white owners and managers. As of February 2015, only 5% of NHL players were black.