Monday, April 23, 2007

Acting White: Blacks and Professional Baseball

I took my son to a San Francisco Giants baseball game a few days ago. As I had recently read an article about the decline of blacks in professional baseball, I had my ‘race’ antenna turned on. I noticed a number of related items from the stands, as well as on the field, that might be worthy of consideration.

To start off, the number of black players quite easily meets their proportion in greater society. This is strikingly different from football or basketball, where blacks seem to dominate. Nevertheless, the contribution of black baseball players, beginning with Jackie Robinson, has clearly been great. Black success does not mean the group should dominate the game, in my mind.

San Francisco recently had a black Manager in Dusty Baker, so I am also accustomed to the reality of black team leadership. Team ownership, however, is one of the last bastions that I believe will crack as the ranks of blacks in the mega-rich category grows. The Washington Nationals were nearly sold last year to a predominantly black investor group, and basketball has a black owner in Robert L. Johnson (Charlotte Bobcats).

As for the game itself, what really struck me was how baseball fits with the values that I am trying to teach my son. Throughout the game I had many opportunities to sneak in tidbits on hard work, preparation, perseverance, fundamentals, and sportsmanship. In the case of super star Barry Bonds, my son is now noticing the consistent lack of sportsmanship Bonds displays to his teammates. He still wants to hit like Barry, but no longer seeks to ‘be’ like him.

In contrast, when we watch football and basketball, dominated on the field by blacks, I painfully forget about the lessons I might teach. The behavior of the players is constantly sending the message to be self-absorbed, whenever possible, in order to maximize the advantage in the next contract or endorsement deal. My son’s take-a-ways from these events are usually how to celebrate success in a fashion that inflicts the maximum humiliation on the other team.

To be fair, baseball is not without its ‘hotdogs’, white and black, in and out of the dugout and owner’s box, but the game has done a much better job of policing behavior so that individualism cannot totally ruin the game. There is still work to be done regarding performance enhancing drugs, stratospheric contracts, ticket prices, and minorities in the front office.

I think if legendary no. 42, Jackie Robinson, attended a present-day professional football or basketball game, he would shake his head at the demonstrations and return quickly to the game he helped define, all the while saying with his unforgettable smile, ‘there’s room for improvement, but I think this is the game for me’.

James C. Collier


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1 comment:

Villager said...

Excellent post! I have a 7-year old son. I'm looking forward to taking him to a Cincinnati Reds game in the next few weeks.

peace, Villager