The real ‘white man’s game’

Our view: It’s po­lit­i­cal dis­course, not base­ball, where blacks are re­ally shut out

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Ori­oles out­fielder Adam Jones’ re­mark in an in­ter­view with USA To­day that base­ball “is a white man’s sport” is get­ting a lot of at­ten­tion, but it’s not ex­actly a new ob­ser­va­tion. He later ex­plained that he was re­fer­ring to pure de­mo­graph­ics — about 8 per­cent of Ma­jor League base­ball play­ers are black, while blacks con­sti­tute sub­stan­tial ma­jori­ties in both the Na­tional Foot­ball League and the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion. MLB more or less openly ad­mits the is­sue — it has an ini­tia­tive, Re­viv­ing Base­ball in In­ner Cities, with the goal to “pro­mote greater in­clu­sion of mi­nori­ties into the main­stream of the game.”

It’s not just a ques­tion of num­bers. De­spite base­ball’s oc­ca­sional role in the van­guard of so­cial change (as, for ex­am­ple, with the sign­ing of Jackie Robin­son to the Brook­lyn Dodgers), it re­mains more hide­bound by tra­di­tion than other sports. In an ar­ti­cle this spring ti­tled “The Un­bear­able White­ness of Base­ball,” New York Times Mag­a­zine writer Jay Caspian King cat­a­loged a long tra­di­tion of mi­nori­ties be­ing crit­i­cized by the base­ball es­tab­lish­ment for fail­ing to show proper “re­spect” for the game.

(Among his ex­am­ples: A 1994 show­down be­tween Mr. Jones’ cur­rent man­ager, Buck Showal­ter, and Ken Grif­fey Jr. over the Mariners’ phe­nom’s habit of wear­ing his hat back­ward and shirt un­tucked. A gen­er­a­tion later, Mr. Showal­ter backed Mr. Jones up. “I think ev­ery­body here would feel that way as far as re­spect­ing his right,” Mr. Showal­ter said.)

The more in­ter­est­ing thing Mr. Jones said has to do pre­cisely with whose rights to free speech we re­spect. In an in­ter­view with USA To­day dis­cussing San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick’s de­ci­sion not to stand dur­ing the play­ing of the na­tional an­them, Mr. Jones noted a dou­ble stan­dard in whose speech is viewed as le­git­i­mate and whose as of­fen­sive. “Be­cause Don­ald Trump is a bil­lion­aire, he can say what­ever he wants, be­cause he’s older and has more money? And when Kaeper­nick does some­thing, or says some­thing, he’s ridiculed. Why is that?”

Of course, Mr. Trump got plenty of ridicule early in his cam­paign, with many, in­clud­ing his GOP ri­vals, as­sum­ing no one would take him se­ri­ously. And plenty of peo­ple find things he has said — about women, im­mi­grants, mi­nori­ties gen­er­ally — far more of­fen­sive than any­thing Mr. Kaeper­nick has done. But Mr. Trump built a fol­low­ing and even­tu­ally won his party’s nom­i­na­tion in large part by cap­i­tal­iz­ing on the anger of peo­ple who be­lieve their voices are be­ing shut out. All his rail­ing against “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” is re­ally a way of giv­ing sanc­tion to his fol­low­ers to speak out in ways that oth­ers find hurt­ful.

Yet Mr. Trump hasn’t em­braced Mr. Kaeper­nick as a fel­low ex­er­ciser of free speech. Rather, Mr. Trump has said on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions that he should leave the coun­try. “I think it’s a lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our coun­try, and it’s a very sad thing,” Mr. Trump said this week on “Fox & Friends.” “I’ve never seen any­thing quite like it, ac­tu­ally. You know, you are talk­ing about a ma­jor sport, maybe the ma­jor sport, and when you see that and it leads to a lot of other things. I think it’s a great lack of re­spect and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our coun­try and I re­ally said they should try an­other coun­try, see if they like it bet­ter. See how well they’ll be do­ing.”

What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween Mr. Trump’s speech and Mr. Kaeper­nick’s? Mr. Trump is talk­ing about the con­cerns of work­ing-class whites, and Mr. Kaeper­nick and his sup­port­ers are talk­ing about blacks.

“It’s crazy how when peo­ple of color speak up, we’re al­ways ridiculed,” Mr. Jones said. “But when peo­ple that are not of color speak up, it’s their right.”

Which brings us back to what Mr. Jones was say­ing about a “white man’s game.” It’s not base­ball, it’s pol­i­tics. The per­cent­age of blacks in the ma­jor leagues is near an all-time low since in­te­gra­tion, but the num­ber of blacks in Con­gress — also about 8 per­cent of the to­tal — is at an all-time high. More than 40 per­cent of base­ball play­ers are mi­nori­ties (thanks largely to Lati­nos), but the cur­rent Con­gress — the most di­verse ever — is 83 per­cent white.

We don’t dis­pute that Mr. Trump is giv­ing voice to many peo­ple whose be­liefs aren’t rep­re­sented in cur­rent Amer­i­can pol­i­tics (though in some cases, there’s good rea­son for that). But it’s un­de­ni­able that the in­jus­tices Messrs. Kaeper­nick and Jones are talk­ing about have been shut out of our po­lit­i­cal dis­course for gen­er­a­tions. We don’t care if they’re mil­lion­aire ath­letes; what they’re say­ing needs to be said.

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