Minor League Baseball headquarters, located in St. Petersburg, Florida, employs more than three dozen individuals on a full-time basis. Vincent Pierson, in addition to being one of the newest employees within the organization's ranks, also has the newest job title: Manager of Diversity and Inclusion.
In this capacity, Pierson will be responsible for developing strategies and implementing programs to increase minority involvement throughout the industry -- from the front office to local business relationships to the fans in the stands. His February 2015 hiring marked the latest and arguably most significant aspect of Minor League Baseball's ongoing "Diversity Initiative," introduced by president Pat O'Conner in advance of the 2009 season.
I spoke with Pierson prior to April 15's Jackie Robinson Game, a Florida State League contest held annually at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach.
"What I'll be able to do in this position is continue [Jackie Robinson's] legacy," said Pierson. "Sometimes that may be opening a door on our end and sometimes that will be opening eyes on the other end, as far as the individuals we want to attract and be more involved with."
Pierson is a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida, where he obtained a pair of master's degrees within the DeVos Sport Business Management Program. The experience obtained within this program was crucial to his personal and professional development.
"Dr. Richard Lapchick is the chair [of the program]. I worked on several racial and gender report cards with him and gained, really, the most impactful experience," said Pierson. "I was exposed -- my mind was opened to so much because of the access I had to him and others. And it all centered around social justice -- from the issues of the '60 and '70s to apartheid in Africa to the different things that we are dealing with currently."
Pierson continued, "Pat O'Conner was on the [DeVos Sport Business Management Program] board. He was hiring for the [manager of diversity and inclusion] position, and it's almost like the stars aligned."
Getting the job was the first step, but what to do with it is another. As with any new position, much remains to be determined.
"The Diversity Initiative is broken up into five silos: ownership, executive-level employment, staffing and management-level employment, our fan base and our suppliers," said Pierson. "Those are the areas we want to impact. First, it's going to be getting out to as many clubs as I can, meeting general managers, meeting staffs, getting familiar with some of the cultures around the league and allowing them to get familiar with me as well. Because the last thing I want to do is call a club with an idea or initiative that we haven't moved forward with, and then they haven't heard of me. We'd be two steps behind at that point.
"[The job will entail] tapping into a lot of different networks," he continued. "Essentially I need to locate the quote-unquote 'minority talent' and discover if they're aware of our opportunities. And if not, why not? We're national -- there are opportunities all over. Once I advance my network and create those connections -- this is all down the line -- I'm hopeful that when a club has a position, they can contact me and say 'Hey, Vince, this position has been open for a few weeks and we haven't had a minority candidate apply yet. Can you help us out?' I'd be able to do that, to help get a diverse slate of candidates in front of you. It's not 'Pick this person, this is the one you asked me for.' It's 'Does this person fit this need?'"
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If Pierson is successful in his efforts, then he will have played a major role in diversifying an industry that is predominantly run by white males. This is especially true at the higher levels of Minor League Baseball employment, as there are currently no African-American general managers and a small, albeit growing, number of females.
"I certainly do not believe that there's a general manager out there who's saying, 'I love the fact that my club is all-white. I plan to keep it that way,'" said Pierson. "But, in my own readings, I can certainly say that I believe that bias exists in each of us, subconscious biases that we take with us everywhere we go. And that's included in hiring decisions as well. I hope to be able to bring some education on our end. Not me pointing a finger by any means. Just be open to receiving this because we've got to be intentional about addressing it at all levels."
Increasing the ranks of minorities within the front office goes hand-in-hand with attracting more minority fans to the ballpark.
"Once those people have seats at the table it can bring a perspective that simply may have not been considered before," said Pierson. "In Charleston[, South Carolina, home of the RiverDogs] they were able to increase their African-American attendance -- one, because they changed the music; and two, they got into the community. I guess we have to not fish where the fish are and try to spread our horizons more than that."
More fans at the ballpark equals more money made, and that's an equation that every single person working in Minor League Baseball can support.
"I will not enter these conversations without mentioning the moral piece. But if I chose not to, I'd still have so much ammo because of the business piece," said Pierson. "There are reports coming out, almost weekly at this point, about the minority becoming the majority. It's inevitable, and for the 25-and-under population, that time is now. The minority already makes up the majority for that population. Look how much business you're missing out on by not talking to a segment of the community. … That's potentially keeping dollars out of their pockets, so now you know you've got their attention."
Pierson has just begun his mission, but the passion for what he's doing is evident. He's in it for the long haul.
"There are so many clubs to visit and general managers that I'd like to meet. I'd like to get everywhere. I certainly feel that it will be non-stop."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.