After San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem before a preseason game Aug. 26, the discussion about race relations in the nation once again heated up. Some argued that athletes shouldn’t openly discuss politics, while others applauded Kaepernick for his stance.
Other NFL players followed suit in recent games, and their support will likely continue throughout the season. However, football isn’t the only sport in season. Major League Baseball doesn’t have much time left in its regular season, but there have been over 300 MLB games since Kaepernick first sat during the anthem Aug. 26, and not one MLB player has openly shown support for Kaepernick.
The reason for the lack of support from MLB players isn’t hard to see. At any given time, there are approximately 850 active and injured players on MLB rosters; however, only 8 percent of those players identify as African American. Approximately 30 percent of players are Latino, while 2 percent are Asian. Sixty percent are white.
The NFL has approximately 1,200 players, over 68 percent of whom are African American. The NBA has the largest percentage of African–American players, with 74 percent, compared to the other major sports in the U.S.
Baltimore Oriole outfielder Adam Jones recently spoke prudently to USA Today about race in Major League Baseball. “We already have two strikes against us already,’’ Jones said. “So you might as well not kick yourself out of the game. In football, you can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don’t need us.”
“Baseball is a white man’s sport,” Jones said.
And he’s right. Only 69 players on Opening Day rosters identified as African American. For a sport that broke the color barrier with Jackie Robinson, it’s hard to believe. The lack of diversity stems from college baseball, as well.
A 2008 study published in The Sports Journal found that just 4.5 percent of NCAA baseball players were African American.
For a local reference, the Ithaca College baseball team has had one black player since 2011. I’m sure that’s not intentional, but it supports the narrative that young black athletes are being pushed toward other sports like football and basketball — where the cost to play is much less.
Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder Andrew McCutchen wrote about the struggle experienced by many low-income black athletes to play baseball and how his own career could have gone down a very different path if everything didn’t fall perfectly into place.
Think about it. Parents have to buy their children a glove, a bat, padding, cleats and a helmet. In basketball, they can simply buy shoes and a ball. The problem isn’t isolated to African–American families, as The Wall Street Journal noted that low-income families across the country are slowly turning away from baseball.
If the barrier to entry for low-income families doesn’t lower soon, the future of baseball could be in danger.
With football and basketball’s popularity growing among low-income black families, expect the frustrations of Jones and other black baseball players to continue.