The Measure of Diversity That Only One U.S. Pro Sport Meets

Two diversity measurements help reveal which sports leagues are truly the most diverse in the United States.

By Chris Hoenig

Diversity in pro sports in the U.S.There is only one professional sports league in the United States in which at least 50 percent of the players are not of a single race or ethnicity. And no, it’s not one of the so-called “Big Four.”

It’s Major League Soccer.

In every other major sports league, at least half of the players are a single race or ethnicity: More than three-quarters of NBA players, 70 percent of WNBA players and 65 percent of NFL players are Black. Major League Baseball is the only other sport close to that measure of diversity: 60 percent of MLB players are white. (The study did not look at the National Hockey League, which is almost entirely white.)

Major League Soccer also leads in another measurement of diversity, known as the Simpson Index, which uses mathematical formulas to determine the likelihood that two players selected at random from the same league will be of the same race or ethnicity.

If two MLS players were selected at random, there’s only a 32 percent chance that they would be of the same race or ethnicity. If you did the same with two Major League Baseball players, you’d have a roughly 46 percent chance that they are the same race or ethnicity.

That likelihood skyrockets to 66 percent with the NBA, including a 58 percent chance that both players would be Black.

With the exception of Asians, Major League Soccer demonstrates the most diversity across each of the racial and ethnic groups measured: white, African-American, Asian, Latino or other. About 48 percent of MLS players are white, 25 percent Latino, 10 percent Black and nearly 20 percent are identified as “other.” The high proportion of “other” stems from the number of Black players who were previously identified as African-American but who now are identified as being from other parts of the world.

Diversity in pro sports in the U.S.

In addition to the 60 percent of MLB players who are white, almost 30 percent are Latino and 10 percent are Black. The NBA and NFL are both made up of almost entirely white or Black athletes—at least 95 percent of the players in each league.

A study reported by The Washington Post in June showed the benefits of diversity on the playing field, or pitch as it’s known in soccer. A look at the major European soccer leagues showed a direct correlation between player diversity and team results in competition.

Simply put, diversity produces success.

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  • Joseph Corlett

    I’m wondering why if it’s a good thing that the police and fire departments in our cities reflect the city’s racial composition, why isn’t this a good idea for professional sports teams?

    • Luke Visconti

      That would be fine, but there is nobody saying there’s a conspiracy to prevent white people from joining the National Basketball Association, for example. However, there have been a number of lawsuits that have proven there was a conspiracy to prevent Black and Latino people from joining public fire departments. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • I’m surprised that you didn’t add the NHL into this, also what year are these stat’s from, when was this article written?

  • How about this? If the population of America is 15 percent black 40 percent white 5 percent Hispanic then to be fai should not the teams and couches and owners be the same? Why should it be otherwise? This would reflect the population as a whole? Why is all the emphasis always put on where the whites have the majority? I see where everything is about the coaches and not the players. Also the colleges are mostly white the teams are almost always mostly black. To be fair the teams should reflect the schools racial makeup. If you’re going to force diversity on everything then you should force the teams to include the percentage of Asian, Hispanic, American Indian and other races and have a team that wins and loses based on the skills of the school as a whole. Also why isn’t there outcry for diversity In black colleges where the teams are all black without any diversity?

    • Like many majority people, you seem to think the diversity means “less than”. Diversity is about talent not being discriminated against. Is about letting the best rise to where they should be, for the benefit of all.

      The way to do that is to make the rules fair and apply to everyone, the referees be fair and the playing field be level.

      • I totally agree with you that “Diversity is about talent not being discriminated against. Is about letting the best rise to where they should be, for the benefit of all.” But tell me about the “affirmative action”.

        • It’s a way to unlock talent suppressed by unjust bigotry and give it a chance to flourish. Keep in mind that universities are judged by the department of education (for distribution of grants and other aid) and corporations are judged by shareholders. Affitrmative-action is only sustainable when it is successful.

          In my observation, white people are encouraged by the trump party to spend an awful lot of time obsessing about a program that is very small in comparison to the overwhelming economic dominance of white people.

          The core of trump’s support is among people who have lost economic standing in this country – older, less educated, unsuccessful and bitter about their heroin addicted children. It is ironic to note that these same people have affirmative-action for centuries in our country – all-white jobs, all-white education, all-white voting, all-white banking. Now that things are a little bit more fair, they are losing ground and they blame everyone but themselves for their own failure.

          I realize it is a little harsh to point this out, but ii is sheer foolishness to blame Muslims or Mexicans for a failure to study in high school. They blew it and seek solice in an orange-pompadoured charlatan business cheat scam artist because he whispers “it’s not your fault”. But nothing changes the truth: yes, it is.

      • I agree with talent, but on the flip side with more African American being in the higher televised sports, IE football and basketball, we have more of a problem of these young people putting more effort into sports then education, which in my eyes is a big part of the oppression, due to the low numbers of people that reach a professional sport it is leaving kid with high dreams and low gpa’s

        • You don’t see any Jewish or Italian boxers, although there were plenty in the 1930s. When opportunity opens up, people take up professional ways of making a living.

  • Eric Hopkins

    NHL is the most diverse, skin color should not matter. The NHL boasts players from around the globe.

  • Luke,
    You sound like a moron and very biased and bigoted. This country was considered to be the most powerful and leading the nation in the world and only recently… Has it started to drop and it’s comparison to other nations in the world. Several parallel things have occurred in conjunction with the back sliding of America. One of the chief things is this… Uncontrolled illegal immigration, and a weekened sense of national and cultural identity. What is happening to America has already been happening to Western Europe. Western Europe is backsliding for the same reasons that America is backsliding. The concept that success is dependent upon the level of diversity is complete BS. There needs to be homogeny for any team or nation or people group to florish. That’s why teams were in the same uniforms for Petes sake. Let’s not throw her brains out the window here. For nation to Floreis and needs a homogenized cultural and ethical standard. This can be comprised of any people, I’ve any races working together with the same language, having a distinct order, and having the same or similar cultural values.

    Multiculturalism weekends and destroys the unity of a country. Everyone can have their historical traditions, but at the end of the day for a nation to be strong and the people must unite under very clearly shared cultural and moral values. One of the reasons America thrived, going from 13 small colonies to the most powerful nation in the world is because we shared Judeo-Christian values with the majority of the people in the country and the majority of the people shared similar cultural values which defend the unity and bond of the people called Americans. If people want to come here and join America they must adopt American values, and American cultural ways. If they don’t they will contribute to the downgrading and backsliding that we have been seen in America and under the racially and culturally divisive Barack Hussein Obama.
    According to the Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson, a conservative Christian black man… Barack Hussein Obama will go down as the most racist president in American history. Reverend Jessie is a very smart and wise man and I trust his assessment of this leader Who is falsely teaching so many young Americans to place their individual cultures above the American culture.
    That’s with half my brain tied behind my back. I’m just getting warmed up. Peace.

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