While the racial makeup in sports ownership is improving, the core problem remains the same. The NFL has one non-white majority owner out of 32 teams. And it’s never had a black majority owner despite most of its talent being black. This problem has been addressed longer than fans may know. In the ’70s, an obscure former football player named Rommie Loudd tried to found an all-black ownership group for a Memphis football team.
Race and sports ownership
In 2019, LeBron James made waves on his HBO show, The Shop, when he generalized that sports owners, particularly those in the NFL, had a plantation mentality due to the lack of diversity in their ranks, according to Bleacher Report.
“In the NFL, they got a bunch of old white men owning teams, and they got that slave mentality,” James said on the show. “And it’s like, ‘This is my team. You do what the f— I tell y’all to do. Or we get rid of y’all.'”
This caused a storm. Not only was he one of the most famous athletes in the world, calling out his own industry, but he also did not mince words. Depending on who was asked about James’ comments, people were either angry or understanding. While no rule explicitly blocks minorities from owning teams, the way the structure works often caters to wealthy, older white people.
Whether people agreed or disagreed is not the issue. The problem with sports owners’ racial makeup goes back as long as non-white owners were a possibility. While there are exceptions to the rule, like Michael Jordan or Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, owners remain mostly white. In the ’70s, however, Loudd was already trying to make this change a reality.
Ronnie Loudd puts his hat in the ring
In some ways, Loudd was already a historical figure in the world of football, reports Slate. He was the first black assistant in the AFL when the Boston Patriots signed him after two years there as a player. Loudd rose the ladder to become the first black front office worker, too. But after leaving the league for a while, he set his sights even bigger.
Loudd started to put together a black ownership group to propose a new expansion team in Memphis called the Kings. The team, named for the late Martin Luther King Jr. in the aftermath of his assassination in Memphis, would get black owners from the worlds of business and entertainment to make the dream a reality. They even got big names like Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis Jr. on board, as well. Furthermore, Hall of Famer Jim Brown was reportedly committed to joining the team in some capacity, too.
The NFL did not welcome the new group right away. Despite having the money, an interested city, and a detailed structure to make it a reality. However, the resistance felt from the NFL was felt right away. After Loudd was accused of being a part of a drug sting in the mid-’70s, however, the ownership group was put on hold until it dissolved altogether.
Loudd maintained his innocence until his death, claiming that it was an elaborate way to stop the team from happening. Now, they are still waiting for a black-owned NFL team.
When will this change?
The NFL has plenty of safeguards when it comes to the diversity of their coaches and players, details Global Sports Matters. But little has been done to fix the race problem when it comes to owners. Whether someone agrees with James or not, the lack of diversity in ownership circles remains rampant to this day.
Loudd’s story serves not only as a reminder of how these things were treated over 40 years ago but how little they’ve changed in 2020. The NFL currently has seven minority owners — six women and one Pakistani. Until a representation echoes the diversity of the NFL, statements like James’ will continue.