November 02, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The WNBA continues to be the standard-bearer when it comes to hiring women and minorities in top-level positions.

The league earned a combined A-plus for its race and gender hiring practices in the report card by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) that was released on Wednesday. For the year, the league received A-plus for race and an A for gender with an accumulative 95.5 points, which is just a percentage point below its record of 96.5 set in 2014.

It's the 12th straight year in the 20-year existence of the WNBA that the league has posted at least an A for its combined grade on the report issued by the University of Central Florida's TIDES.

Dr. Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the report, said the impressive marks go well beyond the fact that it's a league for women so diversity might be perceived as a given.

''I think of college sport where more than 60 percent of the women's college teams are coached by men and more 50 percent of the assistant coaches are men,'' he said. ''So it doesn't necessarily matter that it's a women's sport.

''I think they have taken the leadership seriously, have paid attention to diversity right from the start.''

TIDES also issues annual race and gender report cards for the NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS and college sports. The NBA received a combined A on its most recent report card when it comes to racial and gender hiring practices, while the NFL, MLS, MLB and college sports all received combined grades of B during the last year.

But the WNBA continues to be the gold standard among sports leagues because of its large numbers of minorities and women in key leadership positions. It starts at the top where Lisa Borders became the WNBA president in February, making her the second consecutive African-American woman to hold the position after replacing Laurel J. Richie.

''It's critically important,'' Lapchick said of Borders' appointment. ''I think the WNBA has made that example possible for the other sports entities to consider a woman of color to lead their operations.''

There are 14 women and seven people of color who have held ownership positions with WNBA franchise in 2016. Also this season there were three African-American head coaches, which was the same as 2015, and the number of women head coaches decreased by one this season to five.

The recently crowned WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks have been the shining example of the WNBA's exemplary status in race and gender hiring practices with Magic Johnson as the team owner along with team Christine Simmons and general manager Penny Toler, who are both women of color.

''I think it was interesting this year that the Sparks won with probably the most diverse front office in the league,'' Lapchick said.

But while most of the numbers were positive for the WNBA, there still seems to be room for improvement. The report card gave the league a D-plus for gender in senior administration after a drastic decrease from 34.4 percent in 2015 to 24.4 percent in 2016. The percentage in this area has been dropping every year since 2016, according to Lapchick's report.

''This is true across all of the other report cards at the team level in team leadership positions,'' Lapchick said. ''There is definite room for improvement. Aside from that the WNBA is ahead of everybody else in virtually all categories and has been for years.''

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