AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - The WNBA reaffirmed its distinction as the top professional sports league in hiring women and minorities to management positions.
The league received a combined "A-plus" for its diversity efforts in grades released Wednesday in the annual report by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The combined grade for race and gender marked the eighth straight time _ and ninth since 2001 _ the WNBA received at least an "A."
"Since the time we started covering the WNBA, they've had the best record in of all pro sports," said Richard Lapchick, the study's main author.
The Racial and Gender Report Card examines major sports league's diversity in management at league offices and at the team level, as well as for coaches and other support personnel. In their most recent reports, the NBA received a combined "A" grade for race and gender, while the NFL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer were each given a "B."
The 95.7 points the WNBA received for the overall grade was the highest in the history of the study, which began in 1987. The WNBA formed in 1997 and the first report out came two years later.
"The only league that's even close or comparable is the NBA itself, and I think it's no accident there," Lapchick said. "I think leadership in the NBA was committed to hiring the best people possible back since in the 1980s but it took them time to do that. The WNBA started with that as the basis of their hiring and they've had an extraordinary record for both racial and gender hires since the league was founded."
Lapchick credited the WNBA's diversity in ownership, with 10 women and seven African-Americans holding at least minor stakes _ mostly as limited partners _ an increase from four in each category a year ago.
"The one area that has been least inclusive in all of pro sports has been the area of ownership," Lapchick said. "And I think the steps that were taken in the WNBA to expand the ownership for women and people of color is another indication of the commitment of the WNBA to be as inclusive and diverse as possible."
Last year, the WNBA hired Laurel Richie as its president, making her the first African-American woman to hold that title for a professional sports league. The percentage of minorities holding professional level staff positions at the league office was unchanged in 2012, though the number of women holding those jobs fell from 76 percent to 71 percent from the previous year.
There also was a downturn in the coaching ranks. Five of the 12 current head coaches in the league are women, compared to six at the end of last season, and there are four African-Americans _ also down one from a year ago. Those numbers include the recent change in Atlanta, where Marynell Meadors was replaced by Fred Williams _ giving the WNBA one fewer woman and one more African-American than it had at the start of the season. However, women hold 64 percent of the assistant coaching jobs _ the highest in the history of the league.
Also, the ratio of women who held senior team administrative jobs in the WNBA improved 19 percent to 52 percent this year, while the number of women in administrative positions overall increased slightly from 40 percent to 44 percent. For minorities in the jobs, it nearly doubled from 14 percent to 27 percent.
On the court, there are more African-American players this year at 74 percent, a 5 percent increase from 2011, and the highest since studying the WNBA.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)