20 Most Powerful African Americans in Sports
As part of Black History Month we have taken an in-depth look at the current role of African Americans in sports and worked to create a list of the 20 most powerful right now. Power can come from a lot of things, but we looked at a few key factors: money, influence on the game, ability to make personnel decisions and the ability to shape the coverage.
While the overall trends are positive for the growing diversity among the decision makers with the major sports and media outlets, there are still far too few people of color in the major roles, and even fewer women. In fact, we were unable to justify putting a single woman on this list, though the Williams sisters would have qualified in years past while ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Nike’s Raye Pond just missed the cut. Among others who deserve mention are MBL VPs Jimmie Lee Solomon and Jonathan Mariner, Agent Eugene Parker, NCAA SVP Bernard Franklin and former NFL Coach Tony Dungy.
- Michael Jordan: Owner, Charlotte Bobcats
While his contributions to basketball as a player are unmatched, Jordan's current role in the game is just as important. Since he purchased the majority share of the NBA's Bobcats from Robert Johnson in 2010, M.J. has been the only African-American owner in any of the four major sports. When it comes down to it power comes from the pocketbook and Jordan is the only African American with the final say in personnel moves in the NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL.
- DeMaurice Smith: Director, NFLPA
While Smith might not have beaten the owners during last year's CBA negotiations, he did cement his role as the head of the suddenly powerful NFLPA. By standing up to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Smith proved he wasn't the pushover that his predecessor, Gene Upshaw, was. In the coming years expect to hear about Smith more as the NFL seeks to expand the schedule, address concussions and restrict players' social media access. While not the most powerful of the player unions the NFL is the most popular sport in America, giving Smith a larger platform than the other player union heads.
- William Wesley: Consultant, CAA
While you may not recognize the name William Wesley, there isn't a basketball player in the country who doesn't know him by his nickname, World Wide Wes. While officially an employee of the C.A.A. talent agency, it's his role as unofficial basketball power broker that has put Wesley in the middle of every major NBA story from the 2004 Detroit brawl to LeBron's "Decision." A read of Alex French's GQ profile of Wesley will only scratch the surface of his involvement in the game.
- Rob King: Senior VP, ESPN
No one in sports controls and creates the narrative quite like ESPN. The broadcast behemoth is the biggest player in sports, which comes with both positives and negatives. As both a league partner and news outlet, ESPN often walks a fine line in their coverage, and many of those decisions are made by Rob King, the Senior VP for Digital Media and Editor in Chief of ESPN.com.
King, thanks to the sheer reach of the ESPN platform and his role in shaping coverage, is one of the most powerful people in sports in general, and one of the very few who aren't white. While King takes some well-deserved criticism for conflicts of interest and the occasional bomb-throwing comments by some of his writers, he has come off as responsive in the wake of most scandals.
- Billy Hunter: Director, NBPA
Unlike Smith's NFLPA, which managed to sign a new CBA without any games being missed, Hunter and the NBPA actually took their fight into the regular season last year. While the final agreement was roundly criticized as being unfair to players, Hunter should be commended for keeping the union together as paychecks were being missed and owners showed an unwillingness to compromise. It can be argued that no single person in sports had a greater financial impact this year than Hunter after the NBA canceled 20% of the regular season.
- Ozzie Newsome: GM, Baltimore Ravens
A Hall of Fame tight end for the Cleveland Browns and a legend at the University of Alabama, Newsome's greatest impact on football has come after he retired. In his 18 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens front office (the first two while the team was still in Cleveland), Newsome has proven to be a great judge of talent, both on and off the field. The first African American to run an NFL franchise, Ozzie has been considered one of the NFL's top executives. While at least twenty former Ravens assistant coaches or personnel evaluators have gone on to be head coaches or general managers during Newsome's tenure, his most lasting impact may be the trail he blazed as a former player who took the top spot in the front office.
- Kenny Williams: GM, Chicago White Sox
Much like Newsome, Kenny Williams is one of the longest tenured executives in his sport, starting his 12th season as the White Sox GM in 2012. While not the first African-American General Manager in baseball (he was the third), Williams is the first to last more than a single season. He is also the fourth longest-serving GM in baseball and oversaw the franchise's World Series title in 2005, the team's first since 1917.
- Brad Daugherty: Owner, NASCAR
While it might seem odd to include Daugherty, as he is only a part owner of a one car NASCAR team, it still makes him the only other African-American owner (besides Jordan) in sports. His JTG-Daugherty team fields cars in multiple NASCAR series, and has had some limited success as a smaller operation. The former NBA All-Star also serves as a reporter on both ESPN and Showtime, and has been heavily promoted by NASCAR as they try to reach out and attract more black fans.
- Don King: Boxing Promoter
While there are plenty of bad things to say about the legendary boxing promoter, you definitely can't call him irrelevant. King has promoted hundreds of championship fights, including heavyweight matches for fighters like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes over his extended career. While boxing has lagged in popularity over time, King is still the public face of the sport, often appearing on news and talk shows to promote both his fights and his politics (he was a vocal supporter of George W. Bush).
- LeBron James: Player, Miami Heat
One of only two current athletes on the list, LeBron James set himself apart during his 2010 free agency. Already an advertising powerhouse and NBA All-Star, it was during that period that LeBron became the NBA power broker that he is now. By getting ESPN to televise his "Decision" special and orchestrating the move to acquire Chris Bosh, LeBron changed the way the NBA works by showing players they had far more influence than before. This example (and the subsequent attempts by other stars to form power teams) was often cited by owners as one of their major concerns during the last CBA fight.
- Jerry Reese: GM, NY Giants
Reese, who just finished his fifth season as the General Manager of the Giants, already has two Super Bowl titles under his belt. Being the top man in the front office for the defending NFL champs, especially with a team that plays in the New York media market, makes Reese one of the most high-profile executives in sports. While the NFL has made strides in getting the racial profile of front offices to more accurately reflect the involvement of African Americans in the sport, a black GM is still a rarity, especially one who never played professionally.
- Charles Barkley: Personality, TNT
Usually power in sports can be defined by two things: money and the ability to make personnel decisions. Barkley, as a TV analyst and product pitchman, has little say how any franchise is run or the bottom line of any sport. That said, when Barkley speaks everyone listens, thanks to his high-profile and likable style. A media darling, Barkley hasn't been afraid to call out player during his TNT telecast, a rarity for former players. While there are other African Americans with television jobs in sports, like ESPN's Stuart Scott or Mike Tirico, no one else can make news quite like Sir Charles.
- Walter Glover: CFO, USOC
While Glover might not have the recognition of most of the other names on this list, there is no arguing his place on it. As the man who controls the checkbook for the U.S. Olympic Committee during an Olympic year, Glover will have a key role in determining the success of the U.S. team during the London Games.
- Gene Smith: AD, Ohio State
In seven years at Ohio State, Smith has overseen one of the most high-profile, and highly profitable, athletic departments in the NCAA. A member of a number of NCAA executive committees, including the past chair of the basketball selection committee, Smith became a household name during the investigation, and subsequent resignation of football coach Jim Tressel. Following his ouster there were calls for Smith to resign or be fired as the school faced possible sanctions, but his hiring of sought after former Florida coach Urban Meyer quickly quieted many of his detractors.
- Garry D. Howard: Editor, Sporting News
While African Americans may represent a majority of the athletes in a number of sports, that diversity isn't reflected in the men and women who cover them.This is especially true in print media. In fact, at the time Howard left the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2010, he was the last remaining black newspaper sports editor in the country. Since then he has filled the same role with The Sporting News, the monthly magazine and website. While TSN doesn't have the reach and influence it once did, Howard is still the final decision maker on one of the most respected titles in the business.
- Michael Wilbon: ESPN Host
After 30 years at the Washington Post, Wilbon is now a full-time ESPN employee, hosting Pardon the Interruption and ABC's basketball coverage. While his writing contributions shouldn't be ignored, it's his work on PTI that will define his lasting impact on sports. The show, which he has co-hosted with friend Tony Kornheiser since 2001, has changed the way sports news is presented. Professional blowhards like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith owe their success to the reception that Wilbon and Kornheiser received for their argumentative style.
- Tiger Woods: Golfer
Only the second athlete on this list, it was difficult to include Tiger after his recent scandals and slump. Even with all that dragging on him, Woods is still the biggest draw in golf and moves the ratings like no other athlete. While he has not had the impact on young golfers that many hoped for (there is only one other African American on the PGA tour, newcomer Joseph Bramlett), he still creates such a significant buzz that even his ex-caddy receives regular news coverage.
- Bomani Jones: Writer
If blogs, podcasts and other "New Media" are the future of sports coverage, then Bomani Jones is positioned to be among the leading voices. Sadly, "New Media" faces the same problem as the traditional media, a lack of diversity and Jones still stands as one of the only high-profile African-American writers. The host of his own podcast, "The Evening Jones," along with a blog, Jones also contributes to SBNation and ESPN. By appearing across multiple platforms, Jones is able to build his profile while writing independent of the oversight of the traditional news room. While Jones can occasionally offend readers with his controversial stances, you can never argue his intelligence or passion for what he does.
- Bill Duffy: CEO, BDA Sports Management
When Business Insider published their list of the top sports agents last year, only one African American made the cut. While recently losing star client Carmelo Anthony might have hurt Duffy's bottom line, he still represents an impressive list of players including Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash and Yao Ming. A former player himself, Duffy recognized the influx of international talent into the NBA and now represents nearly 50 clients who play overseas, making him a draft power broker in the coming years.
- Ray Anderson: EVP, NFL
A former agent and team executive, Anderson has become the NFL's point man on concussions. With the recent focus on traumatic brain injuries, both in the media and in the courts, this looks to be a dominant sports story for the next few years and Anderson has taken on the role of disciplinarian for dirty plays and viscous hits. While he has been the target of criticism for players who disagree with his harsh punishments for questionable calls, there is no question that he holds a major position as the right hand of Roger Goodell.