Let’s be honest, Major League Baseball was slow to respond to the death of George Floyd and the protests, unrest and, ironically, further police violence against minorities that ensued.
Once MLB did finally respond on June 3, it came in mealy-mouthed and frankly a little weak. It was underwhelming. MLB stated, basically, that it had zero tolerance for racism and racial injustice and expressed vague promises to address these problems.
My friend Jelisa Castrodale wrote about MLB’s response over at Vice, and got this response from MLB’s Steven Arocho: “We didn’t just want to be a brand putting our voice out there. We wanted to develop what the next action was, so putting something out without considerable thought and being thorough, for us, felt a little short. We wanted there to be something intentional about it.”
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
And that’s actually a pretty sensible response. In this world of instant reaction, hot takes and viral social media trends (if anyone can explain what it accomplished for everybody to post a black square to their Instagram accounts, I’d love to hear it), it makes sense to pause and consider what sort of steps can be taken that will create actual positive change and help move us forward to a more just society.
So that’s why I’m not here to trash MLB. They’re thinking about what to do? OK, go ahead and think. And hopefully they will come up with a comprehensive plan and not just wait for everything to blow over, cool off, and put us right back where we were before all of this happened. Take some time to consider a plan of action, but don’t let this moment pass.
The time is ripe for real change, and MLB is primed, if willing, to take a leadership role. Here are some ideas of how that can be done.
Address and improve minority hiring practices
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport has done a great job of tracking these things in all sports in recent years. They have not produced an MLB report yet this year, but going off older numbers, about 40 percent of the MLB player pool are minorities. About 30 percent of players are from Latin America, and about 8.5 percent are African-American.
But when you look further up the chain, that 40 percent minority group is not being represented by a similar segment in management and ownership. About 44 percent of MLB coaches are people of color, which is great. But then why are only 13 percent of managers minorities? Why are those coaches not getting managerial jobs? MLB needs to look at that. Further up the power structure, we see that only 13 percent of General Managers/Presidents of Baseball Operations are people of color. And the Angels’ Arte Moreno is the only non-white majority owner.
Looking at this issue and figuring out how to improve those numbers would go a long way toward showing that MLB cares about the issue, as well as providing more post-playing career opportunities for players.
And if you think this is a zero-sum game, that white coaches and executives are somehow going to lose out in all of this, think again. Look at the move Alexis Ohanian made this week as an example.
Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and husband of Serena Williams, announced that he would give up his position of power on the Reddit board with the instruction that he be replaced by an African-American candidate. He is also donating $1 million to Colin Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign.
“It is long overdue to do the right thing,” he said.
Protect and better serve your minor leaguers
One thing MLB could do today is to stop this bizarre plan to destroy their development system, including the move to drastically downsize the draft and to get rid of perhaps a quarter of their minor league affiliations.
Not only does this not make sense from a player-development standpoint, and not only does it do zero good to grow young fan bases in non-MLB cities across the country, it also negatively impacts minority athletes on an adverse scale.
While about 30 percent of big leaguers come from Latin America, that percentage in the minors is closer to 50 percent. Most minor leaguers already make salaries that fall below minimum wage, but now they’re going to take jobs away altogether? With such a diverse work force in the minor leagues, these moves impact people of color at a greater scale than the general population.
Let’s take another look at these nicknames
While it was nice to see the Atlanta Braves make a statement against racism, it was ironic coming from a franchise that is the home of the “Tomahawk Chop”. Same goes for the Cleveland Indians, who are at least finally and reluctantly moving away from the ridiculous and offensive “Chief Wahoo” character.
These are steps, I suppose. But now would be a good time to re-examine the use of these nicknames altogether. Are they really that important? Would it really be that devastating if they were called the Atlanta Sea Cows of the Cleveland Wild Boars or something? They’re nicknames.
I understand that this would not directly impact the issue of racial injustice regarding the African-American community, but it would, in combination with other actions, show that MLB cares about the issues that impact all of its players, and all of its fans. It would set a tone of inclusion.
Seek out advice from African-American players
Look. I’m a white guy. I can come up with some ideas that I think would help, but those ideas are born from my brain and influenced by my experiences. The very best thing myself and other white people can do in this moment is listen.
Don’t listen in a way – and you know how we all do this — where you are just waiting to get your response in. Just shut up and listen. Take notes if you have to. Let it sink in. Let it marinate for a while. Then ask what you can do to help.
This is how we learn. And this is what MLB should be doing in this moment.
Bob Harkins is a veteran journalist who has worked as a writer, editor and producer for numerous outlets, including 13 years at NBCSports.com. He is also the creator of the Razed Sports documentary podcast and the founder of Story Hangar, a network of documentary podcasters.