Through the Allan H. (Bud) Selig Mentoring Award, the Commissioner said, Major League Baseball and the John McLendon Foundation will recognize each year people who have played leading roles on the diversity front.
"It's a wonderful honor," Selig said of the Mentoring Award. "I'm proud that it's a recognition of things I've tried to do in my career."
Dan Rooney, the chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is the first recipient of the award.
Selig presented Rooney, a trailblazer in creating head coaching and front-office opportunities for blacks in the NFL, with the award on Tuesday at the inaugural John McLendon Minority Athletic Administrators Awards luncheon, held at Cleveland State University.
"I can tell you that Dan, the Rooney family and the Steelers ownership group have stood for everything that is right about sports," Selig said. "Dan has consistently proved his leadership in advancing the issue of equal opportunity."
The Commissioner called the work of Rooney and others like him "socially responsible," as they all are carrying on the pioneering spirit that grew out of the integration of baseball in the summer of 1947.
Sports should reflect this multicultural, multi-ethnic society, Selig said.
"What I said today I believe -- that Jackie Robinson's coming to the big leagues was the most powerful moment in baseball history," he said. "There's no question in my mind.
"I cannot tell you how that has inspired me," Selig said. "We have made progress, but we still have much work to do."
Selig was the featured speaker at the luncheon honoring Rooney. His five-minute speech addressed teenagers, city officials, athletes and sports administrators, telling them about how important diversity is in sports.
Selig told the gathering inside the Wolstein Center that he planned to continue using his office as a bully pulpit for diversity, paving the way for some of the teenagers in the audience to perhaps land management duties in sports.
Under Selig, Major League Baseball has taken steps to become more inclusive. In 1998, Selig established the Diverse Business Partners Program, which has allowed minorities and women to get a slice of baseball's economic pie. In 1999 he adopted an equal-employment policy, making Major League Baseball the first sports entity to do so.
In 2006 the league launched the Executive Development Program. The two-year rotational program put minority candidates on the fast track to jobs as assistant general managers or in other similar front-office roles.
The league also opened its Urban Academy in Compton, Calif., that same year. The academy hosts clinics and training programs for youth of color.
But in discussing the Selig Mentoring Award, the Commissioner placed diversity on the front burner of professional and college sports everywhere.
His appearance was a key part of a program that brought such industry leaders as Rooney, MLB vice president Jimmie Lee Solomon and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, as well as such prominent sports personalities as CBS basketball analyst Billy Packer and former NBA star Bob Lanier to the midtown campus.
The event was presented in partnership with the Cleveland Indians, the National Association of Black Sports Professionals, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and the Cleveland Sports Commission.
At the McLendon luncheon, the 15 members of the foundation's steering committee paid tribute to Selig for his work on behalf of minorities and women. They praised the Commissioner for raising awareness of diversity issues, not only in professional sports but on the intercollegiate level as well.
The McLendon luncheon is a tribute to the late John McLendon, a Hall of Fame basketball coach who became the first black to coach a professional team when he took the helm of the Cleveland Pipers, of the National Industrial Basketball League, in 1959.
The event served as a fund-raiser for the McLendon Memorial Minority Scholarship, and it also paid tribute to the "Legends Class," the first Hall of Fame to honor minority administrators in college and pro sports who have made a lasting imprint on sports.
The first group of inductees consists of Smith; Wayne Embry, the first black general manager in the NBA; Bill White, a former player, Yankees broadcaster and the first black president of the National League; James Frank, the first black president of the NCAA; Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end and general manager of the Baltimore Ravens; and LeRoy Walker, the first black president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.