MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Is a Step in the Right Direction

MLB is making an effort to make its front offices more diverse. (via Michelle Jay)

In October of 2015, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, in his first season as commissioner, said, “Major League Baseball is committed to making strides in minority hiring.” This particular quote was prompted by the firing of Lloyd McClendon, after which it became a distinct possibility that the 2016 season could begin without a single black manager.

In January of 2016, MLB hired Tyrone Brooks, formerly the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Director of Player Personnel, to serve as the senior director of their new diversity pipeline program. According to the press release, “The program is designed to increase the pool of minority and female candidates for on-field baseball and operations positions.” In that same announcement, MLB shared that they had hired Renee Tirado to serve as senior director of recruitment; Tirado was the former head of diversity and inclusion for AIG.

In September of this year, a five-person diversity and leadership team created by the Carey Business School of Johns Hopkins University announced plans for a two-week program to offer an executive certificate in baseball analytics. The program will begin in January of 2018 and is open to current baseball employees. It will cost $9,600, though the leadership team hopes franchises or corporate MLB sponsors might eventually be able to subsidize that cost.

Most recently, on Oct. 6, MLB released the application for what it is calling the Diversity Fellowship. While each of the steps MLB has taken to address the lack of diversity within its organization is impactful, this recent move is the first that will have a decisive impact on people who are not already entrenched within MLB.

Commissioner Manfred has spoken at length about his desire to diversify MLB, but he has spent most of his tenure working within the system on a much higher level. Increasing diversity in MLB is a mutually beneficial goal because, as Texas A&M professor and Director of the Center for Sport Management Research and Education G.B. Cunningham writes, “When coupled with inclusiveness, diversity is associated with a host of positive outcomes, including improved group processes, better decision making, attraction and retention of diverse employees, the attraction of customers, and objective measures of success.”

The Diversity Fellowship is significant because it will, hopefully, open up new opportunities to those who have historically been regarded as outsiders in baseball. It is certainly not without its flaws, and we will get to those in a moment, but it is much-needed progress in an area too often devoid of such a thing.

For those who have yet to read the news release, or explore the application page, let’s break it down briefly. The Fellowship is two-fold, with opportunities to work in an entry-level position in one of 30 MLB clubs, or in MLB’s central office. Those selected for the club-specific fellowship will take on an 18-to-24-month commitment either in the front office, or in a baseball operations role. In addition to the aforementioned fellowship, MLB is also offering three fellowships with “a rotational, three-year phase opportunity to: (1) two years in Baseball Operations, focusing on International Operations & Scouting, Umpiring and On-field Rules & Regulations; and (2) one year working within the League Economics Department.” These three fellowships will be entry level as well.

The application for these fellowships was released last Friday, and carried three major stipulations for eligibility:

  1. The fellowships are open exclusively to people of color and female candidates.
  2. Applications will only be accepted for those who have a minimum 3.2 GPA.
  3. The applicants must have graduated from college no more than 24 months prior.

This two-year specification is applicable to Bachelor’s, Master’s, or other advanced degree programs. MLB is also careful to note that “a passion for and knowledge of baseball is helpful but not required.” If a candidate matches that criteria they can apply for any of the fellowship opportunities by Friday, November 17, by 11:59 PM EST. The application itself is fairly straightforward; MLB requests a resume, transcript, personal statement (500 words or less), baseball essay (500 words or less), and an optional cover letter.

Deadspin’s Lindsay Adler wrote about the Fellowship on the day the application was released, in a piece titled “MLB’s New Diversity Fellowship is A Small Step But A Big Deal.” That title in itself is a clear, and succinct way of looking at this new initiative that Manfred calls “one of [MLB’s] most significant efforts to recruit the most talented array of diverse individuals who are interested in pursuing a long-term career in baseball.”

The diversity of those who actually play baseball has increased throughout the years, but within front offices and at the corporate level the numbers have remained stagnant, or have dropped. To further increase diversity within the sport itself, MLB has devoted millions of dollars to programs like Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), Urban Youth Academy’s and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, but this is the first major program to actively seek to diversify non-player opportunities within the sport. It is long overdue, but at least they have begun to implement change.

Fundamentally it’s a good thing that MLB has created this Diversity Fellowship. An opportunity for applicants who all too often find themselves on the outside of this industry? Excellent news. Yet, as with most everything else, this program has its flaws. First of all, there is no mention of specific compensation for the fellowship winners. They’ll be paid, which is great (people should always be paid for their work), but if it’s an entry-level role without specific compensation details one is left to assume it will also pay minimum wage. As dozens of studies have demonstrated, minimum wage is scarcely a living wage, and two-thirds of MLB teams are located in expensive cities. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that those who apply for the club-specific fellowship are unable to offer any sort of preference in location, which likely means that many of the fellowship recipients will then have to move to take advantage of this opportunity, which becomes another cost in and of itself. Beyond the financial cost, it has historically been more challenging for people of color to relocate on a whim; there are cities that remain inhospitable to people of color, and which subsequently could pose a threat to their safety or mental wellbeing.

Another point of unintended exclusivity within the fellowship requirements is the 3.2 GPA, which Mary Craig, in a comprehensive piece at Beyond the Box Score, explains is “difficult to achieve because of systemic inequalities in the country’s education structure.” In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 55.3 percent of Black bachelor degree recipients had a GPA of 3.0 or higher, compared to 75 percent of White students. The study goes on to note that “Blacks were nearly three times as likely as Whites to graduate with a GPA of less than 2.5. Some 14.5% of Black graduates and 5.5% of White graduates had a GPA of less than 2.5.”

Otherwise qualified applicants are unable to apply, due to the GPA requirement, and do not even have the opportunity to make their case in one of the supplemental writing pieces. In an industry where a number of men in higher-up positions did not attend college, much less graduate, this serves as another example of minorities being held to an unjustifiably higher standard. The decision to limit applicants to those who are no more than two years out of school is similarly problematic. It eliminates candidates who have worked steadily outside of college to try and create a career for themselves in this field because programs like this Diversity Fellowship were not yet in place.

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Let’s be clear here: MLB’s Diversity Fellowship is a good thing, and represents a promising move in the right direction, but it could also stand to see some improvements. It has its flaws, and is not as inclusive as it still could be, but it’s important to recognize that the Diversity Fellowship is finally some tangible progress in a field that has been stagnant for far too long. Not only is it a step forward now, it will, hopefully, establish a stronger foundation upon which MLB can continue to build and increase their corporate and front office diversity.

References & Resources


Isabelle Minasian recently completed her thesis on Roberto Clemente and the American media, and is a staff writer for Lookout Landing. She loves the Seattle Mariners, despite all the pain that they bring. Follow her on Twitter @95coffeespoons.
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Dennis Bedard
Member
Dennis Bedard

Here we go! Time to genuflect to the Gods of political correctness. Let’s start by juxtaposing two quotes:
1. MLK circa 1963: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
2. MLB circa 2017: “The fellowships are open exclusively to people of color and female candidates.”
Shame on you MLB.

JJ Keller
Member

Boy am I disappointed that this has 9 upvotes. I have to believe people are smart enough to see that those two statements are not really contrasting. Context matters.

James
Member
James
In order to apply for this position, you are required to click that you confirm the following statement: “MLB Advanced Media, MLB Network, and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball (each of which shall be referred to herein as a “Baseball Entity”) are equal opportunity employers and do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation…” Seems to be in pretty direct conflict with the job requirements which list “A woman or person of color” under the Eligibility Criteria. Anyone care to explain how this isn’t in violation of Title VII of… Read more »
Fillmore
Member
Member
Fillmore
Because this is not employment. And on a larger level, stop objecting to progress on purely intellectual, principled grounds when you don’t *really* care, when it doesn’t actually effect you in any meaningful way. Because the other side, minorities who have long strived for these types of positions only to see them go, again and again, to white males, all while being told the system is equal and fair and they always had the same chance as everyone else when it blatantly wasn’t true — they DO actually care. They feel that discrimination every day, and if it takes a… Read more »
Las Vegas Wildcards
Member
Las Vegas Wildcards

Diversity and inclusiveness do apply to everyone, and while this fellowship is a good idea, we never want to “balance out” hiring practices in the future. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

We also don’t want to complain about a grade point average or minimum pay standards. If someone has the talent and passion to succeed in a career, they’ll find a way. Unpaid internships are still a great way to gain valuable experience, and get the edge over other job applicants.

James
Member
James

I was asking a pretty direct question about a legal issue, and you proceeded to attack me personally for not “really” caring about the struggles of minorities and women… While I appreciate your answer and I believe that you are probably correct in assuming that they avoid the legal requirements of race-blind employment by labeling this position as a fellowship, I think you need to seriously take a look yourself and the anger that you pour out against motives and beliefs that you falsely ascribe to others.

mikejunt
Member
Member
mikejunt
I’ll give it a stab, though I fully expect you won’t find the answer satisfactory. My employer is a federal contractor. The law requires that federal contractors take additional steps to meet EEO requirements. The primary thrust of this is Affirmitive Action Planning. The purpose of AAP is to get your -applicant pool- to most closely represent the community that you are a part of. You still want to hire the best available candidate, but if your community is 15% African American and you only get 5% AA applicants, you’re not reaching your entire market. Consequently, most AAP is aimed… Read more »
rounders
Member
rounders

Baseball front office work, it is no secret, has over the last generation become heavily IQ dependent. Rightly or wrongly, it is what it is. Trolling for minorities is a fools errand. It is no exaggeration to say that any minority who is highly intelligent already has his pick of jobs. Working as an intern is not an option for him. The diversity racket is an evil business in need of extermination. So are it’s advocates.

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