Lead Story Professional Sports West Edition

Activist group questions diversity of new teams’ off-field hires

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Rams and Chargers are more than a week away from opening the 2017 regular season but the two new teams are failing to make points with local activists when it comes to hiring practices.

The Los Angeles Urban Roundtable has fired off letters to the Rams and Chargers complaining about the lack of diversity in off-field positions for both teams.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Roundtable, said the teams that will play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Rams) and StubHub Center in Carson (Chargers) have failed to hire people of color as they have relocated their operations here from St. Louis and San Diego, respectively.

“It has come to my attention that there has been an ongoing theme of hiring disparities in your organization, since you’ve moved to Los Angeles,” Hutchinson said in his letters to each team. “And, it seems African Americans are the ones being left out.”

Hutchinson specifically referred to each team’s new media guide, which lists not only players and coaches, but front office and behind-the-scenes personnel.

“After examining the media guide the Rams published this year, it is evident that your staff has hired at least 40 new people to non-football operations positions since your 2016 media guide was released,” he said in the letter to the Rams.

“And, out of 40 non-football operations hires the Rams have made since returning to Los Angeles, only three of them are African American. And, just one of those African-American hires has reached the position of manager.”

He said the Chargers had similar problems.

“Of the 32 new non-football operations employees they’ve hired since the 2016 publication, they hired as few as two African Americans.”

Hutchinson, who writes a weekly opinion column for The Wave, said neither team has responded to his letters. Neither team responded to a reporter’s phone calls requesting comment this week.

Concerns about the topic initially came up after attending an open practice at the Rams training camp right before the preseason games started earlier this month.

“When looking at the sidelines, the publicist, promoters, media people, staff and clerical people that were present, there weren’t any African-Americans and a lot of young white people,” Hutchinson said.

He said the team has added a number of international hires, including a man from Germany and Great Britain.

Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, left, speaks at a February 2016 press conference at the Forum in Inglewood a month after he announced his team was moving from St. Louis. His team is being criticized by local activists for the lack of diversity in off-the-field positions. (File photo)

Hutchinson said he hopes to sit down with the organizations to discuss hiring practices and how they will reflect the racial demographics of the area to the many capacities within the team’s organizational infrastructure.

“You can’t get more centralized in one of the most diverse areas and especially when you go into Inglewood from the Coliseum where Hispanic and African-American are based in these areas,” Hutchinson said. “This is where your fan base clientele is, but yet still it’s not [ethnically] reflected in terms of your hiring of the management level and beyond,” Hutchinson said.

According to the NFL’s commitment to diversity statement listed on its website, the league focuses on diverse representation in professions both on and off the field. However, those statements do not go into great depth about a numeric standard in bringing this initiative to life.

The NFL’s diversity statement reads, “To cultivate an organization and community representing a wide variety of individuals at all levels all of whom respect, honor and celebrate the broad range of human differences among us, while also embracing the commonalities we share, and to provide each individual with the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential as organizational goals are pursued.”

Based on the numbers included in the two team’s respective media guides, both organizations do not follow what is being stated in the latter portion of the NFL’s statement about creating and fostering a diverse working environment.

“We’re not talking about in on-field positions, we’re talking about off-field positions. That is the very bone of contention,” Hutchinson said.

On Aug. 29, the Rams increased the number of African Americans on staff after hiring Hall of Fame running back, Eric Dickerson, as the new vice president of business development. The move came on the same day that he signed a symbolic one-day contract to officially retire as a Ram.

The hire is still just a micro-gesture towards making the organization a more diverse environment ethnically, Hutchinson said.

“It doesn’t change anything. The fact is that it’s one person. One position. One time. We’re talking about something much bigger than that,” Hutchinson said about Dickerson.

“We’re talking about a hiring practice, policy and pattern (that needs to be implemented). You count out literally dozens and dozens of off-field positions as indicated in the letter.”

Hutchinson used the analogy of the way the entertainment has been criticized for lacking diversity and how those in the industry point to names like Viola Davis, Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey and Samuel L. Jackson in their defense. But there are a slew of off-camera positions that are mostly and predominantly white like lighting technicians, sound technicians, scriptwriters, press agents and other positions that need more black representation, Hutchinson said

“It’s easy to hire a guy like Eric Dickerson and on the Chargers you have LaDanian Tomlinson [in the front office] and they have a black coach, but if you look at the other off-field positions, it’s abysmally white.

“The Rams and Chargers want the market size and every perk that comes with Los Angeles,” Hutchinson said, “And the many off-field positions they have must reflect their stated commitment to diversity. The failure to have a team whose non-player and coaching personnel reflect the full diversity of L.A. will have an adverse impact on the team’s attempt to ensure minority, especially African-American fan, attendance and support at games, TV viewership and purchase of team paraphernalia.

“The Chargers first two pre-season games have already shown warning signs of their failure to connect with L.A.’s communities when they can’t even sell out a 27,000-seat stadium.”