Quite Frankly, Fantasy Could Stand More Diversity

I find Stephen A. Smith quite annoying, but that wasn’t always the case. Back before he was just another loudmouth on ESPN yelling about everything (and nothing), I knew him simply as a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the paper delivered to my house every day through my final three years of high school.

Back then, his words had no volume. He was merely an intelligent writer who addressed more than the monotonous “why isn’t Donovan McNabb smiling today” that many in Philly pass off as sports journalism.

I use this roundabout introduction to bring you to the latest column that he wrote for ESPN the Magazine, which raises a topic worth addressing in our industry: Why is the face of fantasy sports so white?

Smith cites a Fantasy Sports Trade Association study that finds about 93 percent of fantasy sports players are white, with Latinos making up 2.3 percent of the market, blacks 1.6 percent and Asians 1.1 percent. He then focuses on why more black people don’t participate in fantasy, but he fails to really find an answer.

Smith basically provides his own opinion (shockingly) that fantasy sports are nerdy (which they certainly are, to a degree) and actually writes the following: “The more I learn about the typical fantasy player, the more I think most minorities simply have better things to do.”

Smith then proceeds to cite black comedian Guy Torry as an avid fantasy player and shares Torry’s reasons for loving the game but stops short of digging further into why more minorities don’t play. Fortunately, at least Dr. Kim Beason steps in to offer some insight.

“When you break it down, it appears the disparity has to do with a critical mass of individuals who are together discussing fantasy sports,” Smith quotes Beason as saying. “Up to now, that has mostly occurred in the white workplace. And a lot of time, it’s on the Internet.”

But Smith stops there.

Well, race can be an uncomfortable topic in nearly any circumstance, but there’s more to say in this case, and I believe that someone should say it.

From what I can tell, the biggest reason for the lack of diversity in the fantasy sports market seems relatively simple. What do we know about the average fantasy sports player? He tends to have a college education, make an average salary of somewhere around $50,000 and/or contribute to a household income that averages $75,000 to $80,000 a year, work an office job with access to a computer and do his playing online.

The key stats there are those representing income, and unfortunately, the two largest minority populations in this country lag way behind in median income. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, non-Hispanic white households had a median income of $54,920 in 2007. Black and Latino households, on the other hand, brought in median sums of only $33,916 and $38,679, respectively.

Logically, an income disparity of $16,000 to $20,000 per family means fewer computers in minority households and less-widespread Internet access, two crucial components to fantasy participation. The lower income will also, realistically, tend to mean tougher working conditions — certainly fewer computer jobs — which strikes at the reasoning given by Dr. Beason. (As for the remaining characteristic of the average fantasy player, nobody needs a college degree to play fantasy sports. That’s just part of the path that leads to the others.)

It’s extremely unfortunate, disappointing and ultimately unfair, but the relative lack of minorities in the fantasy market points to much larger issues of inequality within our society.

Now, that still leaves out the Asian portion of the market, a group that earned a higher median household income than whites in 2007. That section of the population, however, is roughly a third the size of either the Latino or black sectors. The fact that Asians participate in fantasy sports at a rate not far behind two other minority populations that far outnumber them only supports the idea that socioeconomic status lies at the heart of the issue.

As for why the Asian portion of the fantasy market doesn’t match its slice of the overall population, well, just think of how many Asian athletes you see in the major American sports. Baseball has seen growth on that front since the mid-to-late 1990s, and Asian players now dot the rosters of the NBA. Football, however, is the indisputable king of fantasy and also nearly devoid of Asian athletes.

It stands to reason that a population that hasn’t truly been integrated into a sport will be less likely to follow it. Americans, for example, have never really embraced the NHL or professional soccer, both national games of other nations and populated by a large number of foreign players.

None of this is meant to propagate stereotypes. I don’t believe that black and Hispanic people are poor folks without computers, and I know that the NFL can count plenty of fans with Asian origins. This is an attempt to connect the dots between facts and outline the hurdles that stand in the way of diversifying the fantasy landscape.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how much we in the fantasy sports community can do to effect the kind of societal change that would balance things a bit more. I just know that it’s a discussion worth having and an issue worth drawing out.


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3 Responses to “Quite Frankly, Fantasy Could Stand More Diversity”

  1. Shannon Owens Says:

    Good article. Very interesting read.

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