Major League Soccer announced on Tuesday a series of updates and enhancements to its Diversity Hiring Policy for sporting positions with the clubs.
The changes, created by a working group of club personnel, league executives and current and former MLS players, have been made to increase the policy’s efficacy, add a specific focus on the hiring of Black candidates and strengthen the policy’s enforcement mechanisms. As part of ongoing efforts to establish and develop a deep pipeline for sporting staff from underrepresented groups, the updated policy will apply to MLS clubs, MLS’ youth academies – MLS NEXT – and soon to the entire MLS ecosystem, which includes MLS NEXT Pro.
MLS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee
The MLS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, along with the MLS Board of Governors and member clubs, officially approved the updates to the policy on Dec. 2. The policy requires more robust consideration of non-white candidates for open positions, and the league will administer specific sanctions against clubs failing to abide by the new rules.
The policy, first implemented in 2007, remains rooted in its initial intention to create opportunities in soccer for individuals from underrepresented groups. The updated policy is the result of several months of thorough discussions with key stakeholders across the league, led by MLS Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer and Executive Vice President Sola Winley. Among the individuals in the working group driving the changes are representatives from Black Players for Change (BPC) – an independent organization of more than 170 MLS players, coaches and staff – and SCORE (Soccer Collective on Racial Equality), a collective of Black former MLS players.
Specific updates to the MLS diversity hiring policy include:
- A requirement to ensure the finalist pool for an open sporting position includes two or more non-white candidates, one of whom must be Black or African American, as part of a renewed effort to prioritize opportunities for Black candidates. Previously, the policy only required one diverse candidate to be interviewed for an open position.
- A new requirement to demonstrate an equal interview process and comparable interview experience for all candidates in the finalist pool for an open sporting position.
- Clarification of public sanctions for teams that fail to abide by the policy, including up to $50,000 fines for first offenses, up to $100,000 fines for second offenses, and fines of more than $100,000 (pursuant to the Commissioner’s discretion) for third offenses and beyond. Previously, the Commissioner had sole discretion to impose sanctions as he saw fit.
- A new commitment to review the policy annually and update it as needed.
- The addition of a definition of “underrepresented groups” to specify that this term includes Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino(a), American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, Canadian Indigenous, Canadian First Nations, Women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
- The addition of a specific list of first-team sporting positions and academy sporting positions to which this policy applies.
- The creation of a Diversity Policy Portal (DPP) in which clubs must submit all details of vacant sporting positions and include information related to all candidates in the final candidate pool.
- The addition of specific guidelines for a process to request waivers to the policy, which will be granted only in extenuating circumstances.
Diversity Hiring Policy
This policy will be reviewed annually and updated as needed.
MLS Diversity Hiring Policy for MLS Sporting Positions
Prior to hiring any position listed in Table 1 below, the Team Operator must do the following as promptly as possible:
- Notify the League Office of the open position through the League’s Diversity Policy Portal (DPP).
- Ensure the finalist pool includes two (2) or more candidates from underrepresented groups, whereby at least one (1) candidate must be either Black or African American.
- Provide the League Office with information related to all candidates in the finalist pool through the DPP.
- Demonstrate an equal interview process with comparable interview experience for all candidates in the finalist pool through the DPP.
MLS Sporting Positions that are covered by this Diversity Hiring Policy
First-Team Sporting Positions:
- Chief Soccer Officer
- General Manager/Sporting Director
- Assistant General Manager/Technical Director
- Head of Soccer Operations
- Director of Player Personnel
- Head Coach
- Assistant Coaches
Academy Sporting Positions:
- Academy Director
- Academy Head Coaches
- Academy Assistant Coaches
Underrepresented groups include, Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino(a), American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, Canadian Indigenous, Canadian First Nations, Women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
If the Team Operator does not adhere to the Policy, the Commissioner will impose the following sanctions publicly:
- Up to $50,000 for first offense
- Up to $100,000 for second offense
- Up to $100,000 or more for third offense and beyond, pursuant to the Commissioner’s discretion
Waiver requests, including interim hires, will be granted for extenuating circumstances only. Requests must be submitted through the DPP and approved by the League’s General Counsel and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer.
While the Diversity Hiring Policy currently applies only to sporting positions across the MLS ecosystem, MLS intends to focus next on creating a policy that applies to front office positions at the league office and member clubs.
The working group
The working group that took on this important job was made up of a diverse group of league stakeholders who were all given the opportunity to make their voices heard throughout the process. This group consisted of:
Current and former MLS players including:
- Earl Edwards Jr. (BPC)
- Quincy Amarikwa (BPC)
- Allen Hopkins Jr. (SCORE)
- Evan Whitfield (SCORE)
MLS club representatives including:
- Robin Fraser (COL)
- Luchi González (former FCD head coach)
- Peter Vermes (SKC)
- Ali Curtis (former TOR general manager)
- Dimitrios Efstathiou (ATL)
- Darren Eales (ATL)
- Chris Klein (LA)
- Jeff Berding (CIN)
- Danita Johnson (DC)
MLS league office leadership including:
"I’d like to thank and acknowledge the members of the working group for the significant time and thoughtful attention that went into updating the Diversity Hiring Policy for sporting positions," said MLS Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer and Executive Vice President Sola Winley. "The enhancements to this policy are intentionally designed to hold ourselves accountable to increasing opportunities for diverse representation and more specifically Black representation in MLS sporting positions from our academies up to our first team."
Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) Grade
In October 2020, MLS unveiled a series of initiatives aimed at combatting racism, advocating for social justice and increasing Black representation in the sport. Those initiatives included an understanding that updating the league’s Diversity Hiring Policy is one important component of MLS’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
In November, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) awarded MLS:
- an A for racial hiring practices with a score of 91.7 -- an increase from last year’s 90.7 points
- a C for gender hiring practices with 74.7 points -- an increase from 69.9 points in 2020
- an overall grade of B with 83.2 points -- a 2.9 percentage point improvement from last year.
These scores indicate MLS is moving in the right direction in racial and gender diversity, but the league acknowledges there is far more work to be done.
As noted in the updated policy, it will be reviewed annually and updated as needed. The policy will be evaluated based on interviewing and hiring data, and changes will be made if it is determined that the policy is not achieving the intended results.
Feedback from around the league
“I’m pleased to see the modifications that are being made to the hiring policies that will ultimately help to create more opportunities for Blacks and other underrepresented groups in sporting positions in Major League Soccer,” said Colorado Rapids Head Coach Robin Fraser, a member of the working group that updated the policy. “I’m very grateful to have been hired by Padraig Smith and KSE, and I hope that whatever success we have had here at Colorado helps open doors for more Black coaching candidates. To be clear, I don’t feel like KSE gave me a chance because I’m Black. I believe I was hired because Padraig, and KSE felt like I was the best candidate for the job. This modification to the hiring policy will undoubtedly give more exposure to Black candidates, and definitely create more opportunities within the Black community.”
“When we organized our solidarity demonstration in Orlando, part of our goal was to give Black players a voice in our league and advance human rights inequalities through programs and policies that address systemic racism,” said New England Revolution goalkeeper Earl Edwards, who was one of the two BPC representatives in the working group. “I want to give the league credit for involving BPC in the process of creating this policy as we continue to work towards a real culture shift of working together openly and transparently. The policy itself was created with an understanding that it will need to be a work in progress in order to obtain the tangible results we are seeking. The unique portion of the policy is our ability to evaluate and revise it on a regular basis to increase its effectiveness. This is another step by our league, and I’m looking forward to seeing its results.”
“Increasing diversity, equity and inclusion is a top priority among our ownership group,” said Marty Edelman, New York City FC vice chairman and a co-chair of the MLS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “The updates made to our diversity hiring policy are an important step forward for our league. Just as importantly, we are committed to ongoing vigilance to ensure the policy’s efficacy moving forward and that the work is accompanied by additional racial justice efforts across the league.”
“A clear and purposeful focus on diverse hiring practices is necessary for all organizations to succeed, and we believe the changes made today to the policy and the work we first began 15 years ago will continue our efforts to diversify the MLS ecosystem at every level," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. "This new policy will ensure that more Black candidates will be interviewed for MLS technical positions, and we fully expect this effort to result in tangible changes to the racial makeup of technical staffs across the league. I’m grateful for the thoughtful commitment of the working group and everyone across MLS who has championed this work.”