Sunday, June 1, 2008

Academic Break Pt. 4: MLB & Conclusion

The sport with one of the most publicized losses in African-American athletes is Major League Baseball. Before blacks were allowed to play in the major leagues they played in the Negro Leagues. Owned and operated by blacks, the Negro Leagues is still the most successful sports business venture for blacks in terms of ownership and control.

Once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, the Negro Leagues began to fall apart. Less than 100 years after the collapse of the Negro Leagues the black baseball player is becoming extinct.

A lot of people say the decline is due to things like baseball being perceived as a “white” sport, lack of resources and places to play for inner-city kids, etc. However, the economic problems are more of a result of MLB and NCAA policy than inner-city poverty.

This article by Chris Isidore hit two of the reasons why black players are on the decline right on the head. First, foreign players aren’t subject to the draft. This has caused teams to open up camps in Latin American where they develop players whom they can sign at ages of 15 or 16.

Second, baseball isn’t a revenue sport in college. A lot of baseball players have to pay to go to school, especially those players who go to football schools where more of the scholarships go to football players. For some schools, like Drexel, it’s not even worth it for the school to field a team.

However, I think all of these problems go back to what Rhoden discussed in his book, which is the lack of blacks in ownership and decision making positions. Without people in the room that care, the policies that are keeping blacks out of the game will continue to go on. Imagine how many black athletes would be in baseball if each team had an academy in their hometown.

Yes, Jimmie Lee Solomon is the Executive VP of the MLB, but he’s probably the only black person in the room during a lot of meetings. To make MLB more accessible for blacks, it will take a large public outrage to influence owners to make a change.

Right now, they are probably more than content with having a white, Hispanic, and Asian league. The Latin players are cheap to develop, the Japanese players are usually the best of the best from Japan and the white players are easy to sell to the fans. They don’t have to worry about fans being uncomfortable with tattoos, long hair or reports of one of their players making it rain.

Its ironic that the players who were eager to leave the Negro Leagues to the brighter lights of Major League Baseball might have indirectly killed the black baseball player. It’s definitely good that Jackie Robinson broke the American sports color barrier for several reasons. However, it’s definitely come at a cost.


It’s funny that Whitlock wrote an article that talked about some of the things I talked about in the NBA piece, namely the effects of the appearance of the players and their perception. (I swear I wrote mines before I read his or even knew it existed)

That said, what is the future of the black American athlete in the U.S.? Is the “globalization” of American sports a bad thing? Considering everything else in the country, is it a natural step inline with our countries economic policies?

For starters, these trends will probably continue until blacks either gain more power in these leagues or leverage their power as athletes to get some changes made.

Second, I think the black athlete needs to become more professional and more cognizant of their situation here. Their appearance and behavior is under a lot of scrutiny, perhaps more so than their white counterparts.

I’m definitely not saying tattoos are bad or that it’s not ok to go to the club. Hell, I was in the club last night. It’s the little things that go along way.

Maybe think twice about getting that neck tattoo of your name in Mandarin Chinese. LeBron James needs to know better than to take a picture like this. If you make $6 million a year, perhaps you should call a cab or hire a driver instead of driving home drunk. If you make $6 million a year, you might want to consider hiring a bodyguard or two instead of packing heat. With the nature of celebrity worship and hate in our country, for some it might be time to leave a lot of the nightlife alone, or go to more upscale places.

A lot of young blacks in general struggle with this. They don’t understand why they are judged by appearance and think that someone who classifies them as a thug because their pants are hanging off their butt is a racist. I say that professionalism knows no race. That’s why the NBA’s dress code was one of David Stern’s best moves.

I also think that its na├»ve to ignore the reality of perception. People make judgments on perception all the time. You can sit and say it’s wrong and shouldn’t happen or you can acknowledge its presence and adjust accordingly.

I think that if black athletes changed the perception of them by looking more professional and staying out of trouble, it will go a long way. It sucks that a black athlete and a white athlete doing the same thing gets covered differently, but it is what it is. Blacks don’t own the leagues and we don’t own the media that covers the leagues.

In general, I don’t think the globalization of sports is a bad thing. It’s good that these leagues that give out “World Champion” titles are truly becoming home to the world’s best players. The problem I have is when a team takes a foreign player over a black player when they have equal or lesser talent. That’s when you have to wonder about the motives of the decision makers.

This piece was fun for me to work on, although it’s hard to talk about race in this country. When a player or coach says that something is racist, they are often scrutinized for “playing the race card.” Willie Randolph is on the hot seat for suggesting some of the criticism he receives is racial. However, race is everywhere in sports. For the economic and bureaucratic structure of sports to how players are scouted and even how the media covers the sport. Announcers even describe white and black players differently.

The more uncomfortable it becomes to talk about race, the harder it becomes to fix some of the race related problems in sports. Sometimes I wonder if that’s the point.

Special thanks to Professor E with her help on this project.

1 comment:

Katy Widrick said...

My company does video news stories on great people with awesome attitudes -- they don't get much better than some of the Negro League players who broke barriers in baseball!

You can see a video we did at MLB's recent symbolic draft of Negro League players, which includes Millito Navarro, Peanut Johnson, Charley Pride and Bill Blair as well as Ken Griffey and Dave Winfield.

I hope you enjoy it!