REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PIRATES, PENGUINS AND STEELERS—Committed to the CEIR’S “PLAYBOOK.” (PHOTO BY J.L. MARTELLO)
Just because you can’t hit like Willie Stargell, tackle like “Mean” Joe Greene, or skate like Mario Lemieux, doesn’t mean you can’t be part of Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of people who work for the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins—and collectively, the teams have committed to adopting a “playbook” that will increase employment for African Americans in their organizations.
Tim Stevens, the driving force behind the Black Political Empowerment Project, created the Corporate Equity and Inclusion Roundtable event 12 years ago after a 2010 report showed that Pittsburgh was 40th in the nation on indicators of racial and economic parity for African Americans, particularly Black children. Part of the annual event is the CEIR “Playbook,” a set of 41 measures that, if implemented by local businesses and organizations, will significantly increase the number of African Americans employed at the business, along with ways to retain Black employees and make the organization’s environment welcoming to all.
The two million people in the Pittsburgh region can’t name every company or organization in the area, but everyone knows at least three—the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins. Stevens knows it’s imperative for these famous, influential organizations to lead the way in Pittsburgh when it comes to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“Pittsburgh has some work to do, and we are committed to get dirty doing that work,” said Tracey McCants Lewis, chief people officer and general counsel of the Penguins. Lewis is an African American woman. “We have the ‘playbook’ and we at the Pittsburgh Penguins are excited to announce that we are dedicated to using that playbook as our game plan to promote Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and belonging at our organization.”
Don’t just think about the professional athlete when thinking about the Penguins, Steelers and Pirates. Everything from communications, PR, marketing, accounting, attorneys, website development/technology, sales, trainers, physicians, building operations, etc., are professions that sports teams employ.
“We’re working to provide opportunities for African Americans in the front office in hockey operations,” Lewis said during the collective announcement at Acrisure Stadium, Feb. 28. “We also want to work with vendors, having those contractual obligations with individuals that look like me, that can come to the Pittsburgh Penguins and work and have opportunity.”
Delvina Morrow, vice president of community affairs and DEI, also spoke at the news conference. Morrow and Lewis are two African American women who are part of the Penguins’ executive operations team.
Steelers president Art Rooney II was unable to make the news conference in person, but provided a video message in full support of the CEIR Playbook. “In Pittsburgh, CEIR has expanded the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule” rule for African Americans to be considered for all positions of employment from entry-level jobs to the ‘C-Suite,’ as well as being considered for all contractual opportunities throughout the Pittsburgh region. The CEIR Playbook gives the Pittsburgh Steelers and all entities in the Pittsburgh Region a ‘step-by-step game plan for action’ to accomplish meaningful Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion throughout their organizations. As president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I am proud to support this initiative and share it with other owners throughout the league.”
Travis Williams, president of the Pirates, called the announcement a “celebration,” adding: “The Pirates have been groundbreakers in the DEI space for quite some time,” referencing MLB’s first all-minority starting lineup for a game, in September 1971, for the Pirates.
“It’s really a top-down approach from the Pirates perspective,” Williams said.
Williams said in going over the CEIR Playbook, he realized that it “gave us a chance to step back and see where we (the Pirates) were deficient. We can always get better, it made us realize that we could improve” in some of the organization’s DEI efforts.
Nayli Russo-Long, vice president for people and strategy for the Pirates, said the organization has implemented 84 percent of the initiatives outlined in the CEIR Playbook.
“The playbook is really centered around the experience of the African American community,” Russo-Long said, “and we have to be cognizant of that. There are things that are different, and we have to have intentionality about what we do, the way we recruit, the way in which we attract people, how we retain them, and how we ensure that our underrepresented groups feel that sense of belonging.”
Russo-Long said the Pirates have created an internship specifically for minorities, named after the Pirates’ first Black player, Curt Roberts, and one of those Black interns was hired by the Pirates. Also, from 2020-2022, Russo-Long said the Pirates improved from 9 to 18 percent in Black employees in its seasonal staff.
“We’re not as good there in our front office yet,” Russo-Long said. “We did go to about a three-point improvement but we have a lot of work to do.”
Russo-Long added: “We are really trying to create opportunities for the African American community and give them an opportunity to be at the table.”
“Today stands as a transformational moment in time,” Stevens said, “when Pittsburgh’s three major professional sports franchises boldly re-certify their unshakeable commitment to supporting full human rights for all.”