Scoring on the Expansion Teams: Blacks Named to Key Positions with Newly Formed Professional Sports Clubs

Article excerpt

STEP into the front office of many professional sports teams and it's easy to see a new day is dawning. African-Americans, once considered only good at running, catching, hitting and dunking, now occupy many high-ranking management positions where they can use their brain instead of brawn and handle money instead of the ball.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in professional sports' six newest teams: the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League; the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies in Major League Baseball, and the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies of the National Basketball Association.

Charles Wadell, assistant director of business operations for the Carolina Panthers, says expansion created conditions that made it possible for the new teams to hire the optimal workforce, a dream-team staff with a good mix of women, Blacks and other minorities. "The opportunity is there to address the issue," says Wadell, who is in charge of generating revenue by marketing the team to corporate sponsors. "With existing teams, you only have a chance to address diversity when positions become available. But with expansion teams, you're starting from square one with an opportunity to obtain diversity."

In 1994, 17 Blacks were hired for front office positions in the NFL alone, and two African-Americans, Isiah L. Thomas and Stu Jackson, became vice presidents math the two new NBA franchises.

And more Blacks, like Carolina Panthers partner Bill Simms, are moving into ownership roles. "I think that the opportunities for African-Americans are there," says Simms, a corporate president in Charlotte, N.C. "It's been proven over and over again that the winning teams are the ones with diversity. There are many African-Americans with enough money to invest in a team. We just haven't let it be known that we are available."

Jonathan Mariner, vice president of finance and administration for baseball's Florida Marlins, says although there is a push for diversity among the expansion sports teams, it may take longer for the established teams to join in. "Basketball appears to have better numbers, but baseball's trying and the focus is there," says Mariner, who is responsible for player payroll and budgets for the Florida club. "Progress with other teams will be slower because there is a slow turnover in these jobs. These are great jobs and people don't just walk away from them."

African-American women are also assuming front-office positions. B.J. Waymer is director of community relations and family programs for the Carolina Panthers. The former television reporter recognizes that by being a Black female she is a trailblazer. "Anytime an African-American woman is given a position in an organization such as a professional football team, she is going to automatically be watched and challenged," Waymer says. "But with that also comes the responsibility you have to do a good job and, in the process, open doors for other women of color."

Toronto Raptors' Isiah Thomas is probably the most widely known participant in the expansion sports teams. The former Detroit Pistons star is calling the shots north of the border as vice president of basketball operations and part owner of Canada's first NBA franchise, the Toronto Raptors. He oversees all basketball-related matters. He believes his role is a result of the growing number of teams. "Without question, whenever the sport expands, it creates more opportunities," he says.

Vancouver Grizzlies' Stu Jackson is executive vice-president of basketball operations and general manager for the team. The former New York Knicks bead coach has been responsible for building the club since the NBA selected the Canadian city.

Noah E. Croom, 29, assistant general manager and legal counsel for the Vancouver Grizzlies, is one of the youngest executives in the NBA. In his position, he works closely with Stu Jackson in negotiating player contracts, administering the salary cap and managing relations with the league. …