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MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Program has a diversity problem

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MLB’s new Diversity Fellowship Program, aimed at women and people of color, will generate front office diversity, but its educational and economic requirements still act as barriers.

Major League Baseball announced recently that it is implementing a Diversity Fellowship Program as part of its Diversity Pipeline Program, which began in 2016 as a means of combatting the lack of diversity within Major League Baseball front offices. The application for the fellowship became public last Friday, October 6th, and while the existence of the program in general is a positive step toward acting on the information obtained in the annual diversity report cards, there are several factors of the application process and program itself that undermine or limit this effort to generate diversity.

In his statement announcing the fellowship program, commissioner Rob Manfred declared it to be MLB’s “most significant efforts to recruit the most talented array of diverse individuals who are interested in pursuing a long-term career in baseball.” The program, which offers fellowships for both MLB clubs and the Central Office, works thusly:

This distinct opportunity will place candidates in entry-level roles within one of the MLB Clubs and MLB's Central Office. The Club-based program will be an 18-to-24-month commitment in a front office or baseball operations role at one of the MLB Clubs around the country participating in the MLB Diversity Fellowship Program.

Additionally, Major League Baseball will offer three entry-level fellowships with a rotational, three-year phase opportunity to: (1) two years in Baseball Operations, focusing on International Operations & Scouting, Umpiring and On-field Rules & Regulations; and (2) one year working within the League Economics Department.

Specifically recruiting women and POC, the program, on its surface, seems to be an important step in diversifying the most traditionally white elements of Major League Baseball. It aims to fully prepare these people for jobs in baseball beyond the fellowship. And it will assuredly introduce a number of people to front office work who would otherwise have been discouraged from applying to such positions. But there are still several faults in this program that prevent it from addressing fundamental concerns of diversity.

GPA Requirement

Primarily, applicants must have graduated no more than two years prior to the application deadline, and each must provide proof of obtaining a 3.2 GPA or higher in college. For many POC, this requirement is difficult to achieve because of systemic inequalities in the country’s education structure. Across the country, POC individuals, primarily Black and Latinx people, have obtained lower GPAs than their white counterparts. Of those who attended a four-year institution, according to a Department of Education report released in 2012, 75 percent of white Bachelor degree recipients had a GPA of at least 3.0 compared to 55 percent of Black students, and white students were twice as likely to graduate with a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Meanwhile, Black students were three times as likely to graduate with a GPA of 2.5 or lower.

Several factors contribute to this GPA disparity, including unconscious racism on the part of white professors. A study conducted by Columbia University discovered that this racial bias may account for up to one full letter grade difference between white and POC grades. This bias manifests itself in a number of ways, including the anxiety white teachers face when instructing POC students, overcompensating in an effort to make themselves not racist. This anxiety then transfers to the students, negatively impacting their test scores. At least partially, then, a POC student’s GPA is something over which they have little control, and setting a hard GPA cutoff precludes many POC who are qualified and have been victims of systemic racism.

Furthermore, this GPA requirement seems likely to reinforce the long-standing favoritism of Ivy League grads in front office positions. According to a Washington Times 2013 report, when white and POC students have similar high school GPAs, the white students are more predisposed to attending four-year, private colleges than their POC counterparts: “More than 30 percent of black and Hispanic students with a high school grade-point average of 3.5 or higher attend a community college, compared to only 22 percent of whites with the same grades.” Of students who attend a community college, only 12 percent move on to complete a Bachelor degree within six years.

It is true that Ivy League colleges are becoming increasingly diverse, with minorities accounting for 43 percent of incoming students in the class of 2015, but Black and Latinx students continue to be vastly underrepresented at the country’s top colleges. Much of this can be attributed to the state of primary and secondary education in this country, where predominately Black and Latinx schools receive far less funding than their counterparts and are largely understaffed, but nonetheless, elite colleges are admitting fewer Black and Latinx students than population trends suggest should be the case. If primarily aimed at Ivy League schools, the diversity fellowship will still fail to target as large an applicant pool as should be the case, and it would be ignoring those who would most need this type of program to break into baseball operations.

Removing the GPA requirement may broaden the pool to those who fall short of it, who feel like the requirement targets those who have attended an Ivy League, and those who are unable to pay the fee necessary to submit a transcript. Of course, it will do nothing to address the problem of POCs not attending college because it is not worth it financially to them to accrue so much debt to then make one-sixteenth of what a white college grad makes, but it will encourage those who have completed college to apply.

Flexible Living Situation

Furthermore, the application stipulates that “the fellows will not have the option to choose a Club or location, so, applicants should have flexibility to relocate for any of the assignments.” This lack of choice further hinders POC from applying, as they are more likely to be inflexible in this manner. According to the National Equity Atlas, 42.6 percent of primary and secondary students of color attend high-poverty schools (including 48 percent each of Black and Latinx students), while only 7.7 percent of white students attend such schools. From the outset, POC are far less financially flexible, and that does not improve with age. Black and Latinx families as a whole as less likely to accumulate disposable income over time, preventing them from acquiring the type of financial flexibility necessary for applying to this position, and as with everything, this goes doubly for women of color, who earn the least out of every demographic.

Relatedly, jobs that require this much sacrifice and offer only entry-level pay are often unfeasible options for POC, who rely on a large network of family support. Many of the cities in which teams are based have a high cost of living that would require MLB to offer a high salary for these positions in order for POC to be able to afford to work them. In no American city can a person living on minimum wage afford to live by oneself, and that goes doubly so for POC who have little to no accumulation of wealth. Black and Latinx households generate about half the income of a white household, necessitating the retention of the family unit (in any capacity, but generally as a single parent with children and other relatives) for POCs to be able to afford the cost of living. It is then doubly difficult for POC to live independently or facilitate a move, particularly since fewer POC are homeowners with the accompanying financial assets.

Removing Barriers

It is unclear whether MLB is unaware of these underlying problems or whether the Diversity Fellowship Program is specifically designed to target diverse Ivy League applicants alone. Either way, the program leaves behind those who would be most benefitted from such a program. No doubt, the program will still generate a diverse group of people who had maybe believed this avenue was less open to them before the creation of the fellowship, but the financial prerequisites likely skew the applicants to more financially stable white women, omitting qualified people of color.

It might seem nitpicky to attack a flagship diversity program for not being diverse enough, for being unable to meet every single requirement on its first implementation. But for those who are discouraged from applying because of the factors previously discussed, it is yet another barrier, another place telling them “no” because of things out of their control. It is difficult enough in this country to be a woman/nonbinary person of color without finding diversity program after diversity program that bars them from entry because they are too diverse, or not diverse in the right way. As seemingly radical as the program is, to these people, it is another incarnation of the country telling them they don’t belong, and for a program supposedly committed to fostering diversity, that’s not good enough.

There is little Major League Baseball can do about systemic educational and income inequality, but it has the power to make a difference in this relatively small way, to look past systemic inequalities and tell these potential applicants that they are worth investing in and that they matter to Major League Baseball. Baseball prides itself on its inclusivity, on the fact that it is a game anyone can play if they are provided with a stick and a ball, and it’s time the same principles apply to front office positions. Lifting the GPA requirement and assisting these applicants with relocation or allowing them to apply for one specific team are relatively minor implementations that will begin the first push to implement true diversity.


Mary Craig is a baseball history enthusiast who writes about the sport’s relation to America’s political history. You can follow her on Twitter at @marymcraig.