The Selective Desire for Diversity

Current NBA commissioner Adam Silver has recently expressed his views regarding the number of women in referee and coaching positions. At The Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Silver was quoted as saying:

“”It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing. The goal is: Going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league … same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

Some may see this aspiration as ambitious. But what does this message from Silver really reveal about disparities in certain occupations?

First of all, Silver’s claim that there is no physical advantage to being a male referee as opposed to a female appears to be true enough. But why does he assume that this alone would account for the fact that men dominate this profession? After all there’s no physical advantage women have in female dominated professions such as nurses, interior designers and elementary school teachers. Yet those disparities have continued to exist. Clearly other factors than physical ability must be at work in creating the gender overrepresentation that occur in these fields.

In addition, the desire Silver has for diversity is conveniently applied to those he would oversee as commissioner but not to his own job. Being an older white man himself, Silver took over as league commissioner from David Stern, another older white man. The other commissioners of America’s four biggest sports (Roger GoodellRob Manfred and Gary Bettman) are likewise older men who are white. Silver is curiously silent about the lack of diversity that occurs among major sports commissioners in this country.

This omission of the desire for diversity when it comes to one’s own profession (or desired profession) is certainly not specific to Silver. When interviewed by Vermont Public Radio after he declared for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders was asked about how he, as an old white man, could represent “the face of the new Democratic Party.” Sanders replied with:

“We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age. I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”

Sanders, like Silver, is part of an ideology that places diversity as something of premium importance. That is, apparently, unless it comes to their own jobs or to jobs they are aspiring to get. Only then will talent, experience and ability supersede the desire for a “diverse” workforce. Silver and Sanders abide by the philosophy that merit should be the ultimate factor for me, but not for thee.

Whether or not Silver’s desire for a league comprised of 50% of female refs and coaches will remain to be seen. But often times when someone at the top make a demand for diversity, they themselves are far from an example of it. Many times this is likely why the attempt is made in the first place. In our diversity obsessed culture, if those running the show are members of the majority, all effort must be made to make minorities of as many professions as they can. That is, as long as those professions don’t interfere with their reign.

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