Monday, July 22, 2013

Major League Baseball might not be all that gay friendly after all

Last July I wrote about MLB's Diversity Business Summit and their failure to reach out to LGBT owned businesses. I wrote, I sent snail mail and I sent email. The only response from anyone at MLB was “I don't think about their sexuality, sir.” On June 18 of this year, MLB did it again!

Many business owners became owners by first rising through the ranks of enterprises that they worked for. While things are improving, gay and lesbian business owners have had to overcome many obstacles. A gay executive can still be terminated for simply being gay. Openly gay employees are often denied promotions while closeted gay employees are awkward at the business social functions that tend to be comprised of husbands and wives. These events are often crucial for organizational success.

Minority owned businesses are socially disadvantaged. They often lack the kinds of networks that non-minorities enjoy. This is particularly true in the gay community. As recently as ten years ago as a CEO in New York City, I could not bring my partner to business related social functions. That is still the reality for gay business owners and executives throughout much of the United States.

Major League Baseball creates an economy of staggering proportions.

Major League Baseball's 2012 attendance was just shy of 75 million people. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people are employed in businesses that supply MLB. In addition to the obvious like bats, balls and uniforms, there are suppliers of everything from fertilizer to gift baskets. There are videographers, souvenir manufacturers, program printers, event planners, beverage suppliers and manufacturers of the 300 million plastic cups that those beverages go into. Just imagine the thousands of metric tons of corn kernels. I cannot overstate just how enormous MLB is as a market. It consumes the GNP of a small country.

The current five-year contract between the Players Association and MLB inked in November, 2011 includes a clause prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. On July 16, 2013 MLB Commissioner Bud Selig announced plans to strengthen the league’s current non-discrimination policy to better protect players from harassment based on sexual orientation. Of course that's academic since there are no gay players — at least none that we know of.

Why aren't we invited to the supplier party?

It's complicated but it doesn't have to be. One word from Selig and things would change. Wendy Lewis, Senior VP for Diversity and Strategic Alliances relies primarily on the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) to certify businesses as minority owned. They consider Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native American owned business enterprises to be "minority." I asked Marquis Miller, VP of Field Operations for NMSDC about the extent of their involvement with MLB and whether they would consider certifying a LGBT owned business. His reply:
Wendy Lewis of MLB coordinated the recent diversity summit in Houston. Our affiliate, the Houston MSDC participated. As for NMSDC including LGBTQ businesses as bona fide minority firms, we will not do so, due to the fact that our corporate members govern our programming and our standards, in accordance with, and in the spirit of, the Executive Orders signed by Richard Nixon 40+ years ago.
Dick Nixon. Well of course. That sure makes a great deal of sense. MLB also references certification by the Small Business Association which is incorrect. SBA refers people back to NMSDC. I should note that our SBA doesn't consider us to be a minority either:
For purposes of the 8(a) Business Development program, the following individuals are presumed socially disadvantaged (called “presumed groups”):
  • Black Americans
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Native Americans
  • Asian Pacific Americans
  • Subcontinent Asian American
The bottom line is that somebody at MLB is going to have to demonstrate some ingenuity. They need to realize the importance of cultivating LGBT owned businesses as vendors and suppliers. That's not going to happen without some major push on our part. I am hoping that HRC can address the SBA issue, something that I was unaware of until today. I have reached out to Chad Griffin.

As for MLB, numerous emails have gone unanswered and telephone calls have not been returned. I think that we need to start at the top:

Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Commissioner
Major League Baseball
245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
New York, State: NY 10167
Phone: 212-931-7800
Fax: 212-949-5654

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