Baseball as a Microcosm Of America and Racism’s Familiar Pattern.
In the Spirit of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball (MLB) Should Lead By Improving Inclusion.
The racism that exists in America hit close to home as my brother-in-law, Baltimore Orioles Center Fielder Adam Jones, was called a n****r and had a bag of peanuts thrown at him during a game at Fenway Park in Boston. This episode as well as an incident at American University immediately brought back memories of my own experience in high school when students allegedly shouted in the halls to “make sure you vote European” when I ran for school president and when students anonymously called me a n****r regularly on an online message board during my tenure as student body president in college. While Adam’s situation is unique when compared to what I experienced, the anger, and fear that such sentiments could escalate beyond words and impact friends and family is equally real.
Last week was like so many other weeks in our nation where many Americans were angered at news stories such as that of unarmed black teen Jordan Edwards being murdered by police or the announcement that the Department of Justice unsurprisingly won’t charge the officers who shot and killed Alton Sterling. Or the shooting of black and brown teens at a pool party in San Diego where victims believe the shooter’s selection of his targets was racially motivated while police remain skeptical.
Baseball, as sports so often does, served as a reflection of American life as there were subtle yet familiar patterns in the aftermath of these incidents. The news media accurately portrayed Adam Jones and Jordan Edwards as model citizens. While I appreciate the reporting, often I want to say, “so what?”. It’s difficult for me to read and appreciate the positive narrative knowing that for some it will be necessary to validate what Adam experienced in Boston and the fight for justice for Jordan Edwards in Texas. For some folks, the positive narrative won’t matter as some will choose to believe Adam made up what he heard. Thank God no one said that some how Jordan Edwards “had it coming” but part of me knows that opinion is being promoted somewhere online. These occurrences are part of an ugly pattern in our nations history that unless a white person can substantiate black folks claims or unless a black person is a model citizen, what was experienced didn’t happen or isn’t true.
A few weeks back, Adam participated in a Jackie Robinson Roundtable which aired on MLB network. The discussion focused on how to increase the number of African American baseball players in Major League Baseball (MLB). If it re-airs, please set your DVR and watch the complete 30 minutes. All 6 of the players featured were on the World Baseball Classic Champion, Team USA. For Adam, his reasons for playing were personal as he played to honor those in our family who have fought and served in the military. With this type of leadership in the game, baseball has a unique opportunity to have a larger impact on issues of race and inclusion in America. Having players who are leaders is a start as it was with Jackie Robinson, who, even after he retired, continue to push for more blacks in management and in all aspects of the game.
From a business and economic perspective, it’s relatively easy for the Red Sox and MLB to ban people from stadiums and denounce racist speech. It’s politically correct and good for business. But what about the economic investment in black players, scouts, coaches, journalists, management, grounds keepers, merchandisers, concessionaires, and team ownership?
Recently it was announced that Jeffrey Loria is selling the Florida Marlins: a team he was able to acquire as a result of an interest-free loan and an MLB sponsored bailout of his ownership of the Montreal Expos. Mr. Loria stands to clear over $1B as a result of the sale. Meanwhile there are currently no African American led ownership groups in MLB or MiLB. As far as I know, my father is the only African American approved by MLB to be the lead owner of a team and that was during his bid to acquire the Orioles in 1993. Ironically, Mr. Loria was involved in that bidding as well.
Whether it’s banning racists or facilitating interest-free loans for team ownership, it’s clear what baseball can do when it’s good for business. Denouncing racism in stadiums and strengthening the pipeline and resources for black players is a start but it’s time for baseball to do more. There’s an opportunity for leadership in America on issues of race and economic justice similar to how there was with Jackie Robinson 70 years ago. I hope baseball will seize the opportunity to strengthen a game I love and again be an example of what can happen in America when everyone is valued and included at all levels.