Sixty-six years ago, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Robinson, along with his wife, children, teammates, and organization, endured a lot of scrutiny in the time leading up to this monunental occasion and during his career. But just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., what have we done in 2013 to keep his dream and legacy alive?
Former Atlanta Braves’ outfielder Brian Jordan made the comment that “when I (Jordan) was playing, the league was 40% African American and now that percentage has dropped to 8%”. Why is that? Are African Americans not receiving the same opportunities? No, thats not it. Are African Americans not good enough to keep up with the continuous increase of players from other countries entering professional baseball? No, thats not it. Are African Americans being discriminated against by baseball programs at lower levels? That may happen occasionally, but thats not it either.
In my opinion, we have handicapped ourselves in terms of remaining a part of the elite class of players in Major League Baseball. This handicap is caused by two major things: popularity and the media. Growing up, my main sports were baseball and basketball. I loved basketball because of the “fame” that came along with it. Girls loved basketball players; teachers loved basketball players; even my principal loved basketball players. But when baseball season rolled around, that fame faded to the background as members of the track team took the spotlight. As I would look around the field at my baseball games, it was filled with Caucasian girls in tank tops and short shorts and Caucasian parents sitting in lawn chairs. This was no where near as appealing as the packed stands at the basketball games with hundreds of people cheering our names.
Jasmine King, UNC-Greensboro alumnus and major sports enthusiast, made the following comments regarding the representation of African Americans in baseball: “I think that blacks don’t choose to play baseball because they simply don’t want to. We live in an age now where images are everything. Young black boys aren’t interested in the nostalgia of the ‘good ole days’. They are interested in what’s ‘hot’ right now and because there are no dominate black figures in the MLB today, little black boys don’t pursue it as they do football or basketball which is really sad. Baseball is a wonderful sport that we as a culture contributed a lot to. It saddens me when I go to my brother’s games and there are only one or two black boys on the field. In one aspect its good for those who want to play professionally because there’s so little competition but it also limits the representation of a race of men who fought to play ‘America’s game’.”
Along with the lack of popularity, Jasmine touched on the fact that there are no dominant African American figures in baseball today. Players like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Rickey Henderson, and Ken Griffey, Jr. are no longer prevalent in the game today. There are some emerging stars but the majority of the superstars and video game cover owners are Caucasian or Hispanic. As a culture, we are attracted to prosperity. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Adrian Peterson, and Robert Griffin III represent prosperity. Even Serena Williams and Tiger Woods are at the top of their sports and many young African American kids are striving to be like them. Although baseball players tend to have the largest contracts, you don’t see them on TV in commericals everyday or on the shelves of your favorite athletic shoe store. The media representation of baseball players is not strong enough to attract the younger generation. To echo Jasmine’s comment, I believe this is really sad.
For those who have seen the movie “42” and understand the fight that Jackie Robinson had to endure in order to blaze a trail for African Americans in baseball, you too should understand why the lack of our race in baseball is disheartening. We are quick to say that baseball is more “costly” than other sports. This is a myth. While it does require a glove, a bat, some balls, and a hat (along with other things if you choose), we are quick to spend $100 on “quality” basketball shoes and another $50 on compression shorts, arm sleeves, headbands, and ankle braces.
My argument is not that all African Americans should consider playing baseball. I am simply saying that we should consider the fight of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey and take advantage of the opportunities that they have given us. Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders fought for our equality and we cash in on that daily. Let’s do the same to preserve the legacy of Jackie Robinson and other Negro League players that sacrificed so we could show the world that we are not just good for running fast and jumping high.