By: Taylor Zachary ~Columnist~
America is a nation of two sacred pastimes, racism and baseball. The former needs no introduction, but its relationship to the latter is both subtle and damning.
Colin Kaepernick first protested the national anthem on Aug. 26. His dissent gained national attention, further exacerbating divisions around the question of whether Black lives matter or not. The domino effect of his actions is almost unprecedented in the realm of sports. Football players at every level, as well as a few soccer and volleyball players, are emulating his now historic kneel. High school football players, especially, have used this style of protest as a means of reclaiming both their body and their Blackness.
Such a reclaiming of one’s body, or taste of freedom, does not come without a price. According to a local Boston newspaper, a high school football player in Worcester, Mass. is at risk for a one-game suspension for protesting the national anthem during his team’s season opener. A high school football announcer in Alabama asserted the violent consequences of protesting the national anthem. Before the “Star-Spangled Banner” played in the densely populated arena, he said, “anyone who wishes not to stand during the national anthem can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you since they’re taking shots for you.”
On a professional level, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall recently lost a second endorsement deal due to his showing of solidarity with Black lives. Additionally, soccer player Megan Rapinoe has received an exceptional amount of hate on social media in regard to her protesting of racial and economic injustices endured by Black Americans. To ensure she is no longer able to protest, the coach of the Washington Spirit decided the team would play the national anthem before the players take the field.
Despite many attempts to prevent athletes’ protests, the last two weeks have proved that there are athletes at every level who not only understand and vehemently detest systemic racism but are willing to put themselves on the line to dismantle such a destructive system.
Yet, since Kaepernick first protested the national anthem there have been nearly 250 Major League Baseball (MLB) games played, and not a single player has taken a stand or shown solidarity.
With a 162-game schedule, baseball players routinely stand before the nation’s flag more than any other American sport. Additionally, baseball games are broadcasted to more homes nationally and internationally than football and basketball. With such a robust platform, why have professional baseball players refused to make evident their solidarity with the Black freedom struggle in America?
Adam Jones, a Baltimore Orioles All-Star centerfielder, summarized the most perfect answer to date.
“We (Black baseball players) already have two strikes against us already, (sic)” 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.”
Such a claim is not speculation. In the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA), Black athletes compromise more than 70 percent of the player population. In baseball, this number is only eight percent. Because the NFL and NBA exist via the labor of Black bodies, both organizations must tread lightly on issues of Blackness. Thus, the generally conservative nature of the NFL is forced to tolerate Black athletes’ protests for the purpose of simply keeping athletes on the field.
But baseball does not share the same problem. Baseball does not need Black American players for the sport to thrive. The racial composition of the sport shows this to be true. Because Black bodies are not a central commodity, one must pose the question: do Black lives matter in MLB?
Jones would say no. He understands Black baseball players are the last of a dying breed, and professional baseball has a hand in their extinction. Baseball shares with the United States a complicated, uplifting, immoral, miraculous, hateful and compelling history. Baseball is America’s greatest pastime, not because it is a sport of antiquity, but because it fully embodies the heritage and legacy of the country that birthed it. Such a heritage can only and will only truly know how to disregard Black bodies. Black lives do not matter in MLB.