When Derek Jeter was in his last years as a major league baseball player, the former New York Yankee icon was often asked if he would ever consider becoming a baseball manager. Jeter was unequivocal in responding that he had little interest in manning a dugout. His objective was to remain engaged in the game as an owner.
The 42-year-old Jeter, who retired as a player after the 2014 season, has been proactive in attempting to achieve his goal of securing an ownership stake in a Major League Baseball franchise. He is a part of a group endeavoring to purchase the Miami Marlins. If successful, Jeter would be in an ultra-exclusive fraternity, as Black owners of major sports franchises are virtually non-existent.
To date, there are no Black principal owners in major league baseball. Arturo Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is the only Hispanic majority owner of one of the 30 MLB franchises. The dearth is prevalent across the entire sports landscape. The National Football League, mirroring MLB, has no Black principal ownership representation. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Shahid Khan, who was born in Pakistan, is the sole NFL owner of color of the 32 franchises, despite the league’s collective rosters holding steady at roughly 70 percent Black.
The NBA, like the NFL, consists primarily of Black players. A study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport noted that during the 2015-16 season, the NBA was 74.3 percent Black during the 2015-16 season. Eighty-one percent were determined to be players of color. However, basketball deity Michael Jordan is the 30-team league’s lone principal owner, holding a majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets.
Modern professional sports have commonly been referred to as a plantation system, athletes compared with slaves. For some, the comparison is misguided and affronting. Whichever side of the subjective argument one is on, facts are immutable. No slave in the history of America has made more than $30.9 million in a single year, which is how much LeBron James’ contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers is paying him this season.
Furthermore, the combined 2016-17 salaries for the top 10 highest paid African-American NBA players for just this season alone is $399.7 million. Many of the current Black professional athletes will have the means to form a consortium upon retirement with fellow former athletes to bid on franchises that are up for sale. Jordan and Jeter have proved that wealth, or a lack thereof, is not an obstacle.
But given the exclusionary history of Black and minority ownership of major sports franchises, and the stagnant rate of change, the paltry percentages are likely to remain the same.