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

By Chris Hoenig


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.

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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