April 15th marks a momentous occasion in history. 67 years ago on this day the great legend Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball by making his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. This day celebrates not only all that Robinson has achieved, but also elicits a reflection on the progression of sports and the status of race and sports today.
Contrary to what one might believe, if you look at the statistics, the prevalence of African-American baseball players in the MLB has actually decreased the last years. Compared to 1981 when black players made up 18.7% of all players in the MLB, the black population in baseball has shrunk to only 7.8% of players today. In this sense, we have moved backwards in bridging the disparity of minority athletes within sports.
In an effort to raise the color disparity in sports, there has been “…much-needed institutionally mandated policies to increase the presence of African Americans among the top football league’s head coaches” (Markovits 264). However, with this said, there are many implications for changing the policies to mandate the entrance of colored athletic managers, players, and coaches into the sports arena. In a world that has proven to be dominated by the white upper class, to what extent do these policy changes provide opportunities for those who otherwise would not have been in these positions. However, on the other hand, how will these changes sacrifice the integrity of the sport by creating a diversity checklist that each team must follow in order to raise the percentage of colored players.
Bob Nightengale from USA TODAY reports: “Commissioner Bud Selig is sickened by the diminishing numbers, and just as he promised Aaron, his dear friend, he has vowed to do something about it, commissioning an 18-member task force.” Several key questions come to mind after reading this statement. What does Commissioner Selig mean by ‘do something’? What are the ethical implications of this? Will this 18-member task force create a particular quota allotted for black baseball players? And again, how will this affect the integrity of the sport?
Even though statistics show that the integration of colored athletes in sports has actually decreased, author Markovits’ states in “Gaming the World – How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture” that “though racial discrimination in American sports has certainly not disappeared – a quick glance at the paucity of black team owners, front-office leadership, coaches, as well as managers will corroborate this point – the environment for racism has become socially taboo” (264). This illustrates the type of racism that exists today. Especially in the United States racism often takes a more subtle and camouflaged form that is not so overt. However, the fact that this issue is even on the table illustrates the disparity that exists among players in baseball and sports in general.
On the other hand, although racism still exists, some colored athletes have taken on an important role. “Black athletes, as well as some coaches, have become widely respected heroes of these hegemonic sports and via them in American society as a whole” (264) Athletes like Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali have served the nation as sport’s heroes whom have overcome extreme hardships and triumphed in their respective sports. Athletes today, especially athletes of color, look to these athletes as a source of inspiration and perseverance.
Furthermore, these sport heroes have had an influence not only in the sports realm, but also in the political realm. According to Markovits, sports have “helped expand the social acceptance of blacks and thus constituted the precursors to Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and eventually Barack Obama” (264). Hopefully the further expansion of this issue into the various worlds outside of sports will spark a change within the sports world and heighten the prominence of colored athletes but also maintain the integrity of the sport.