Time for Baseball to Step Up

Jack Belanger, Owner/Writer

When I originally wanted to start this blog, I hoped to focus on where sports connect with issues in society. At first, I thought COVID-19 would take up most of my attention. I could not have imagined the magnitude of the events in the past week with regards to the death of George Floyd and the numerous protests that followed. These events are far too important to be ignored by anyone.

As an American, I have a duty to ensure politicians act and make change. As a sports writer, I have a duty to hold athletes accountable to speak out against injustice.

When scrolling through social media, many athletes have spoken out against the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and have demanded justice for many people of color who have suffered from acts of police brutality and racial discrimination. While it is a great sign to see many recognizable names use their position to speak up, one discouraging factor I found was the lack of baseball players using their platform to speak out to denounce acts of racism.

Numerous NFL and NBA players have made statements and some have even taken action. Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest. His teammates Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, and Vincent Poirier took to the streets of Boston to join protesters. Michael Jordan and Lebron James, the two biggest names in basketball, have each released statements. The NBA Coaches Association created a committee to address racial inequality and generate new reforms.

NFL players left and right have also been vocal in their demands for justice. Patriots’ defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty held a roundtable discussion about racism and protests over their podcast “Double Coverage.” Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, released a statement calling for the end of the “senseless murders.” Several NFL teams canceled their team meetings to allow players to attend George Floyd’s funeral.

While the MLB has not been entirely silent on the issue, there have not been many players and coaches speaking up and making a call to or taking action. The few that have include Miami Marlins owner and former New York Yankee Derek Jeter, who released a statement saying, “It is time for racial hatred to end.” Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen co-wrote an editorial in USA Today expressing his opinion on his disapproval of the latest acts of police brutality and recent protests. The Oakland Athletics pledged $100,000 to multiple organizations that serve the black community.

It may seem that on the surface that the MLB community is doing its part to speak out against racial injustice. It is, however, the lack of action from the faces of the sport that shows how the league lags behind the NBA and NFL when it comes to promoting social justice.

Los Angeles Angel outfielder Mike Trout, who many consider to be the best player in the league, has posted once on his social media accounts on the protests, and that was for “#BlackoutTuesday.” Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper also has posted only once, though he released a more substantial statement than Trout. The league itself waited 9 days following the death of George Floyd to make a statement.

While McCutchen is far from the only player who has expressed his disapproval of acts of police brutality, the MLB has not gone to the same lengths as the NBA or NFL (Photo Courtesy of Brian Rothmuller/Getty Images)

While I am not trying to say the entire league has not shown any level of concern about police brutality and racial inequality, the lack of action shows a separate trajectory that the MLB is on compared to the NBA and NFL; the majority of the players in those two leagues are black, whereas the number of black players in the MLB is under 10 percent.

One of the biggest reminders running through social media right now is that if change is going to occur and justice take place, white Americans cannot be bystanders—they must take action and responsibility. This includes demanding action for America’s nominal national pastime. Since the MLB’s audience is over 80% white according to Nielson’s Year in Sports Media Report, the MLB needs to underscore that this is a concern for the entire nation and all Americans. Baseball players need to show that they are willing to take action with their black teammates and teammates of color. By doing so, the MLB can set a precedent for their fans to do the same.

NFL and NBA players have held their own form of protests in the past, with many of the same players speaking out once again during these recent events. To some, these players speaking is nothing new—they certainly have stepped-up to use their voices in demanding change. But, it is worth noting that their audience mostly consists of people of color, especially the NBA, whose audience is 45% black. This is not to say that football and basketball don’t connect with white people, but statistically their audience is to a lesser degree than baseball.

This is why the MLB has such an important role in enacting change and using their platform. White Americans need to be educated and shown that this is a problem that all Americans should be concerned about. With such a large number of white baseball players, the MLB can have a significant influence on its majority-white fans across the country. Having the three biggest professional sport leagues in the country standing up against racial injustice would further push the message for change to every part of the country.

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