Heterodox Views on Politics and Public Policy from Michael Blaine

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jackie Robinson and the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team

I am tired of Jackie Robinson. More precisely, I am tired of Major League Baseball exploiting the courage, integrity and talent it took for Robinson to break baseball's "color line" sixty years ago. Through the various commemorations around the nation's baseball stadiums this weekend, MLB will have turned a substantive achievement into an innocuous cliche. The legend of Jackie Robinson will be neutered, fawned over by the masses, and safely put back in the petting zoo stable for another ten years.

A few facts: the percentage of African-American major leaguers reached 19% in 1995, and now stands at just 8%. Baseball as a sport is either increasingly irrelevant or inaccessible to blacks nowadays, and that is hardly cause for celebration. Moreover, since the Jackie Robinson story is presented as a microcosm of America, we should look at society at large over the last few years. Here we see that the proportion of blacks living in poverty has risen from 22.5% in 2000 to 24.9% in 2005, exactly triple the rate for whites; the number of black adults attaining a college degree in 2000 was 11.5% below the rate for whites, while the gap in 2005 had grown to 12.8%; and the percentage of blacks in the US Senate is one.

Now, let's look at the demographics of ownership among the 30 major league teams: 100% white, 100% male. In other words, there is not a trace of the Jackie Robinson legacy here. That this close-knit group of often reactionary oligarchs would have millions of baseball fans bask in the glow of Robinson's aging breakthrough represents either a subterfuge or rank hypocrisy. MLB is very, very far from being a paragon of fairness. In fact, while these team owners try to paint a pretty picture on the social front, they are often busy picking the public's pocket by demanding government money for new stadiums. Carl Pohlad, the owner of the Minnesota Twins and a man with a net worth of $2.8 billion dollars, has just succeeded in wresting $392 million from Minneapolis residents for a new ballpark built specifically for the use of his private business.

Meanwhile, on the field, one of Jackie Robinson's African-American heirs -- Barry Bonds -- looks set to break Hank Aaron's hallowed all-time home run record of 755 sometime this season. Normally, this would be cause for delirious celebration and heated discussion involving historical comparisons. What are the meanings of Babe Ruth's 714, Aaron's 755, and now Bonds' 755-plus? But no such conversation among fans will take place, because the thirty MLB owners have been running a dirty racket: the use of illegal steroids has been rife in baseball for at least two decades, and nowhere more conspicuously and more certainly than in the case of Barry Bonds. The American public now can have no more confidence in the legitimacy of a baseball statistic than in the certified outcome of a presidential election in Florida or Ohio.

Beyond baseball, too, race and sport do not look so glittery as an ESPN graphic. The 2007 Rutgers women's basketball team are runners-up to the national champions, but better known for being the target of a racist insult by a nationally-syndicated radio host. Unfortunately, the insult is identical in spirit to the thousands Jackie Robinson had to endure in 1947 and afterwards. So, some of us perhaps can be excused for not joining in MLB's self-congratulatory antics this weekend.


Gregf said...

Shut up you intolerant cur. Hey, dumba$$, blacks are effing given every advantage when it comes to sports. Maybe they aren't as good as hispanics, central americans and whites. There's less then 15% whites that represent the NBA, why aren't you pissing and moaning about that? What a sniveling moron.

Michael Blaine said...

The demographic composition of who owns the thirty major league baseball teams illustrates quite clearly who runs our nation's economy: white men.

Until there is more diversity at the top, celebrating a breakthrough made way back in 1947 will ring increasingly hollow.

America needs to create new milestones.

Michael Blaine

scade said...

Another great Blog post. Very well articulated ideas that have given me much help as i daily prepare for my contemporary issues class. cheers!

Richard Cretan said...

Michael Blaine for Commish!

William Ostrem said...

Thanks for a nice post! One small correction: the Rutgers women's team lost the national championship to Tennessee. See this link: http://www.ncaasports.com/basketball/womens