Colin Kaepernick supporters aren’t just pro-football players, but baseball players have been noticeably absent.
Athletes in football and other sports have signaled support for Kaepernick in the weeks since the San Francisco 49ers quarterback announced he would not stand during the national anthem played before each game. Soccer player Megan Rapinoe, of the Seattle Reign, took a knee in solidarity with Kaepernick Labor Day weekend before a match against the Chicago Red Stars. Last week, Stephen Curry, the prolific Golden State Warriors point guard, told CNBC that he applauds Kaepernick “for taking a stand.” Meanwhile, with baseball season still in full swing, no such statement has been made during a game of America’s pastime.
Well, as Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones told USA Today Sports, baseball’s racial exclusion may have a lot to do with it: “Baseball is a white man’s sport.”
“We already have two strikes against us already, so you might as well not kick yourself out of the game,” Jones said. He notes that in baseball, black players face increased scrutiny not only because they’re black, but also because there are so few black players. “In football,” Jones adds, “you can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball they don’t need us.”
When it comes to professional basketball and football, black players make up the majority. Seventy-four percent and 68 percent of athletes are black in the NBA and NFL respectively. In the WNBA, black women make up 71.7 percent of the players. So while racial disparities persist when it comes to team owners in these leagues — no black person has ever owned an NFL team and there are nearly no black owners for all three men’s leagues in basketball and football — players can at least protest on the grounds that they know they’re collectively indispensable.
By contrast, black baseball players are largely on their own. African Americans make up only 8 percent of players in major league baseball, according to USA Today.
Indeed, almost 70 years after Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier in 1947 by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, the league is grappling with a record low number of African Americans following in Robinson’s footsteps.
And without a significant contingent, black baseball players very likely face more acute scrutiny for protesting than their counterparts, which they can’t necessarily afford.
African Americans are left out of baseball early on
One reason for so few black major league baseball players is that aspiring black baseball players may not be able to afford to pursue their dreams.
In an essay for the Player’s Tribune, Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen discussed how he was blessed that a coach was willing to step in to buy equipment so he could be a part of a travel team when his parents couldn’t afford it. But his story is quite common:
Individuals step in and fill that financial gap. Hopefully those people are trustworthy and have their hearts in the right place. I was fortunate in that respect. Other kids might not be. When you talk to players around Major League Baseball, almost every single one of them has a story about a person who stepped in and took care of their expenses. You hear it all the time: “If it wasn’t for this guy, I wouldn’t be in the league.”
Young black players like McCutchen don’t lack skill. Instead, many lack the institutional resources necessary to work up to the big leagues. And while a number of factors determine whether an athlete goes pro, too often reliance on a benefactor of sorts appears to play a more substantial role for a black player pursuing baseball, compared to sports like football or basketball, where black players have seen steady opportunities.
As Jackie Powell noted for SB Nation, a part of attracting black people back to America’s favorite pastime is “taking away the image of white superiority that has been so prevalent within the sport’s history.”
Making the sport more accessible at an early age is a start. Not only will it help open the doors for better representation. But, with better representation, black players will also be empowered to stand up against racism because they won’t be forced to do so alone.