Quinn Cook of Golden State drives past Danuel House Jr. of Phoenix.
Quinn Cook of the Golden State Warriors drives past Danuel House Jr. of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA game on April 8, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. The NBA is the most diverse of the major pro leagues in the United States. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Culture Business

In an Ethnic Breakdown of Sports, NBA Takes Lead for Most Diverse

Why this matters

Reflecting the audience interested in a sport makes good business sense and helps build affinity.

In the last 20 years, major league sports in North America have seen some surprising and not so surprising changes in the diversity of their athletes. The NBA took the lead among men’s sports for having the most diverse teams. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) releases an annual racial and gender report card for professional sports leagues such as MLB, NBA and NFL. TIDES declares it provides a “comprehensive resource for issues related to gender and race in amateur, collegiate and professional sports,” on its website. The organization studies race and gender diversity and then assigns leagues and teams a letter grade for each category.

Major League Baseball

The 2018 report for MLB showed an increase in racial hiring practices, earning a B+ on the issue. In last year’s draft, about a quarter of the top 26 players were African-American or Latino. However, African-American players have decreased from 13 percent during the start of the 21st century to 7.7 percent today.

With people of color making up 42.5 percent of MLB players, the league has one of the best diversity scores among the four major sports. Last year saw the highest percentage of Latinos, 31.9 percent, in the last two decades.

National Basketball Association

While the grade for gender hiring across the league decreased for the third consecutive year, there was a large increase in the grade for racial hiring. With 80.7 percent of players being people of color, the NBA takes the lead among men’s sports for player diversity.

“The NBA remains the industry leader among men’s sports for racial and gender hiring practices even with the increased grading scales introduced last season,” said Richard Lapchick, the director of TIDES, which is a part of the University of Central Florida, and the primary author of the report.

National Football League

The NFL dropped half a percent to 90.7 percent in TIDES’ race report. The league is primarily composed of African-American and white players. The percentage of players of color has slowly risen to over 70 percent since 1997; the percentage of white players reached a new low, 27.7 percent.


While stats on the field are looking up, the diversity behind the scenes is lacking. Nine percent of managers in the league office are people of color. That’s five percent lower than it was in 1996.



National Hockey League

TIDES doesn’t provide stats on the NHL, but a record of players’ nationalities since 1917 has been recorded by quanthockey.co. The leading countries producing NHL players are Canada, America, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

There has been a steady decrease in the number of Canadian players and an increase in the number of American players. The league was 61 percent Canadian in 1997, but only 45.3 percent Canadian in 2016. European and American players have been increasing: the number of Americans surpassed the number of European players in 2008.

Nikole Tower is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University