Major League Baseball’s Unfortunate Silence on *Anything* That Matters (Repost)

A lack of response to social justice issues shows how disconnected Major League Baseball is from the fans it needs to attract the most.

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(Note: This originally was published last year.)

After wearing t-shirts honoring the lives of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the police officers murdered in Dallas, several WNBA players were fined by the league for violations to the league’s dress code/advertisement policy. In response, those players boycotted talking to the media and spoke out through social media on the injustices of the league’s fine. It was one of the many acts of protests and calls to action by athletes since the spike of police-related violence rocked the country.

We saw four of the most prominent athletes in the NBA, including ambassador LeBron James, say that it was time to make change. Several NFL players went to social media to demand action, others met with activists and police officials to open lines of communication for change. As mentioned, the WNBA was the first league to take their protest to the arena.

Yet there was someone missing.

Major League Baseball, especially its players, were missing from the inevitable conversation about race and policing in America. America’s supposed pastime chose to sit out in the moment when stepping up would matter the most. And no one seems to be taking them to task for it.

Has Major League Baseball fallen so far from the American conscience that people forgot to hold its hand to the fire?

It’s odd because Major League Baseball has a history of being at the forefront of social justice with or without its approval. Jackie Robinson’s arrival in the Majors is seen as one of the catalysts of the civil rights movement. Frankly, you don’t mention the story of Black life in this country without mentioning Mr. Robinson. He’s celebrated as a symbol of racial progression.

Celebrated and pushed by Major League Baseball as their symbol of racial reconciliation. A pat on the back, a “we deserve a cookie”. And we the public give it to them. But yet the league has an open problem with inclusiveness and race.

Even though almost every baseball club has an African-American player on its roster, the league has been devoid of a Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds. Though most rosters are majority Latino, there are no Latino managers in baseball. Crowds at games are overwhelmingly White, viewership by Blacks is at an all-time low.

And in the moment when the league could use an image boost to show they are still a part of the American consciousness, they say nothing. Nothing about the ugliness deep within this country’s mind.

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I’m always struck by the sport’s exuberant levels of Americana and how, throughout the league’s history, it has never tapered off. If anything, the Majors have been more steadfast in sticking to its American exceptionalism roots especially in times when patriotism at least feels at an all-time low. Camouflage jerseys, “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch — when a large swatch of its players were not born here. Large American flags, early afternoon games on Memorial Day and the 4th of July. Fireworks, presidents in the press box.

Racial politics, immigration, unions, gentrification.

Even in its ignorance to publicly address what plagues us a nation, Major League Baseball ironically represents us with who they are beyond the red, white and blue pomp and circumstances. By 2050, the American population will be comprised majority of people of color, especially Latinos. Latinos invest into the American economy. The Major League Players Association is one of the most powerful worker’s unions, setting the blueprint for what strikes can do and playing the role as the mirror of how we feel about worker’s rights. Ballparks are leaving cities while destroying neighborhoods within cities so they can be built (because you can’t have a 21st century baseball stadium without a cityscape).

So in theory, baseball is still ‘America’s Pastime’.

You know what else is? Racism, sexism, classism and murder. And the Majors clearly don’t want a part in changing that. Or changing itself.

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What stokes that fear to speak out? What then leads that fear to drive the progressive bus?

It can’t just be a matter of representation. The Majors are not completely devoid of Black players. And it’s not like police brutality is an issue unique to African Americans. Afro-Latinos know the perils of police brutality better than anybody. But yet there wasn’t a sound from the current representation. When others were asking for athletes to speak out, Major League Baseball players were not exempt from that call. They just decided to bow out and who really knows why.

The irony of this is that baseball players were almost expected to say something. The rebellion we’re seeing from Black athletes now was learned from the baseball players that came before them. So when we lost those players, did baseball lose its consciousness? A projected consciousness but a consciousness nonetheless?

So in theory, baseball is still ‘America’s Pastime’.

You know what else is? Racism, sexism, classism and murder. And the Majors clearly don’t want a part in changing that. Or changing itself.

Recently, I wrote about the Pittsburgh Pirates all-Black outfield. The best outfield in the Majors was African-American and Afro-Latino. That image mattered. Especially now in a time when people of color need to see themselves not as tattoos of the pavement. There was a story in that image, in this time, and what it represents.

It represents progression, something that Major League Baseball had to bear witness to by force. And it is still struggling to catch up with.

Major League Baseball had to enact a domestic violence policy after it witnessed the sports league which supplanted them in popularity, the National Football League, take a public relations hit thanks to repeated episodes of violence against women. Even with that, they still didn’t get it right in the case of Jose Reyes. One fan even said that “as long as he hit a baseball, it’s his personal life.”

While many people point at the NFL’s Washington franchise for having the most offensive mascot in sports, the Cleveland Indians are a super close second. Their mascot has cartoon-like red-colored skin. Yet the Major Leagues have not addressed it, almost hoping that it can hide behind that behemoth racial epithet in DC while college sports programs get dragged through the necessary mud to get rid of their mascots.

And those groups, women and people of color, are needed if Major League Baseball wants to survive. The NFL latched onto breast cancer awareness and violence prevention not because it had a heart. It latched on because women make up a large majority of their marketplace. Women buy apparel, people of color make up their on-the-field workforce. You can’t lose that and survive. Major League Baseball does not care even nonchalantly to do anything of the sort.

Its silence on everything that matters is complicity to everything that matters. Even when a national anthem was changed to say that “All Lives Matter”.

And that silence and complicity is deafening. The ideal that baseball doesn’t care enough to change its reputation as being an exclusive sports devoid of the heart to speak up and out . Isn’t that what its supposed “pastime” should not do?

To catch up reading my Write Every Day In July series, click here.

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