One hundred years after its founding, Major League Baseball is honoring the legacy of the Negro Leagues. In 1920, Rube Foster founded the Negro National League, the first organized major league for Black players. Over the next 30-plus years, this league and others created opportunities for some of the best players in baseball history to take the field. Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston and other stars wowed fans and made themselves legends.
Moreover, the Negro Leagues were an economic driver and supported small businesses across cities with large African-American populations. They served as a focal point for communities and helped foster a sense of identity and pride that outlived the leagues themselves.
MLB Honoring the Legacy of the Negro Leagues
Throughout the summer, players, coaches, fans, and executives tipped their caps, donned retro uniforms, and performed other odes. Often forgotten teams, like the Miami Giants, are having a moment of recognition, thanks to the Marlins. A Nashville expansion group is partnering with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and hopes to name their potential club the Stars, after a Negro minor league team.
All of this was planned before the summer of 2020 happened.
Sports Leagues React
Following an act of alleged police brutality and a suspected attack by a vigilante, Milwaukee Bucks players decided not to participate in their scheduled playoff game. They felt it was important that America should focus on issues that truly matter. They believed that men should not be playing games when the state they represent is facing a true crisis.
The rest of the NBA followed suit. So did the WNBA, NHL, MLS, and NWSL.
MLB at a Crossroads
Major League Baseball typically pretends to be apolitical, though in fact often emphasizes a conservative ideology. After barring Black players for 60 years, MLB’s current political displays are mostly made via patriotic songs, military tributes, and silence on issues of the day.
Nevertheless, one player attempted to use his limited platform in 2017. Oakland Athletics platoon catcher Bruce Maxwell was the only baseball players to take a knee during the national anthem that year. He sought to draw attention to the problem of alleged (and in some cases, proven) police brutality against African-Americans. I attended an Athletics game against the Texas Rangers in late September, and fans booed Maxwell mercilessly. One individual even used a racial slur.
Now, baseball players are beginning to follow the lead of their counterparts in other sports. On Wednesday, six teams chose to postpone their games. Fourteen more copied them Thursday.
As Dave Chappelle poignantly put it, sports are a distraction. Sometimes it is good to have a distraction. They help us escape, at least momentarily, from certain troublesome aspects of our lives and society. Plus, they are just fun. Even on our worst days, people have fun at the ballpark or watching a game on tv.
And that is why players are refusing to play. They believe that at this moment in our nation, their distraction is unwanted. They believe America needs to focus on the fight to end racism and injustice.
Baseball Benefits from Embracing BLM
In this display of solidarity, there may be benefits for baseball’s long-term health. Polls show baseball is unpopular among the country’s youth, while basketball is rising steadily. One leading theory is that the NBA has encouraged its players to become celebrities and adopt justice and charitable causes. This could serve as a turning point to compel MLB to cultivate its players in a similar fashion. Such a development could increase the popularity and generational health of the game.
African-Americans players make up the lowest percentage of MLB players almost since integration. If MLB continues to embrace social justice movements, the popularity of baseball might grow again among young African-American athletes. This could foster a resurgence of Black MLB players and create a new generation of stars in the national pastime. And wouldn’t such a development be the best way for MLB to honor the legacy of the Negro Leagues?
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Honoring the legacy of the Negro Leagues.
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