The Sunday Magazine

Major League Baseball isn't doing enough to combat systemic racism says Black sports columnist Shakeia Taylor

From the batting cage to the pitcher's mound, young Black baseball prospects face racist stereotypes and recruiters throughout their training and scouting. Baseball columnist Shakeia Taylor believes that even though the MLB puts on a good show of acting as though it cares about racism, the league is not doing nearly enough to change racist attitudes and provide Black players with equal opportunities.

The number of African-Americans in the league has decreased, so where is the change?

Toronto Blue Jays' Anthony Alford and Tampa Bay Rays' Cavan Biggio take a knee during the American national anthem at Tropicana Field in Florida on June 24, 2020. (Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press)
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Major League Baseball (MLB) is celebrating the 100th anniversary of what once were called the Negro Leagues, an association of all-Black baseball teams that originated in the era of segregation. Some of the sport's all-time greats, such as Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Oscar Charleston, rose to fame playing in those segregated clubs.

Shakeia Taylor is a sports writer and Baseball Prospectus columnist. (Submitted by Shakeia Taylor)

Last week, MLB made a show of acknowledging the importance of the now-defunct league with anniversary uniform patches, special lineup cards and a virtual first pitch from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

Despite the recognition of its segregationist past, baseball fans and critics are asking whether MLB has done enough to combat the lasting effects of systemic racism on the field, in the stands and at the batting cages.

Dating back to the desegregation of professional baseball, the induction of Jackie Robinson to MLB in 1947, players and alumni have consistently said Black athletes don't have the same opportunities as their white counterparts.

The Sunday Edition's guest host Kevin Sylvester spoke to sports writer and Baseball Prospectus columnist Shakeia Taylor about why systemic racism persists within MLB and what can be done to end it. 

Here are highlights from her interview, edited for clarity and condensed.

Racism in recruitment and training

Systemic racism really goes all the way back to youth and little league baseball, in that baseball has become entirely too expensive for most families of colour. As teenagers, young baseball players typically get their own coaches if they want to make it big, and ballparks are nonexistent in a lot of neighbourhoods of Black and brown people, so there's an accessibility problem.

Then, if young Black baseball prospects get to the scouting process, there's a lot of issues with biases in language, which become a barrier for any player of colour to get into the league. It's evident in tons of documentation and scouting points that minority players are described by their physical attributes and are regularly compared to animals. People tend to view it as a compliment, but they don't dig into how those kinds of things came to be. For example, people believe calling a player of colour a "stud" is okay because it's common. But in reality it goes back to the way people of colour were viewed by white people ages and ages ago. It just carries forward.

Scouts often reduce Black players' level of knowledge of the game, especially now with the current shift to analytics and everything being so dependent on those numbers. There is this idea that a player of colour is not as intelligent and is not as game-savvy. They focus on how fast, how tall, how big these players are and they just pull away from how intelligent these players can be. So Black prospects are merely reduced to physical qualities.

Systemic racism really goes all the way back to youth and little league baseball, in that baseball has become entirely too expensive for most families of colour.- Shakeia Taylor 

MLB and BLM

Racism within MLB is systemic. We're talking about one of the oldest sports and everything is deeply embedded in the "culture of baseball" from top to bottom. It's a sport that had a colour barrier for a significant amount of time and an entirely separate league had to be created because any non-white player wasn't welcome in MLB. There's hundreds of years of institutional racism in this sport and it's going to take more than just conversations and the performative actions of kneeling on a ribbon before a game to address them.

Over the years, MLB has done just enough to be in a conversation for a few days about racism, but they never actually move the needle. There's no actual change in the organization. The number of African-Americans in the league has decreased, so where is the change?

So with the Black Lives Matter movement, MLB decided that they would take a protest and soften it as much as possible. They took the kneeling during the anthem and said, "We will pre-approve the protest instead of having them kneel during the anthem and we will do a collective kneel on a black ribbon, symbolically before the anthem." They did this because they knew that they had to say something, but they also didn't want to anger their fan base. MLB is well known as very conservative. The average baseball fan is a 50-something-year-old white man. It's safe to say that MLB is betting that their average fan would not be too thrilled with kneeling during the anthem.

Sports are really just a microcosm of society. Everything that we see in sports is mirrored in real life.​​​​​​.- Shakeia Taylor

How the conversation goes beyond just baseball

I constantly tell people that sports are really just a microcosm of society. Everything that we see in sports is mirrored in real life. I know it's hard for people to see sometimes because sports are pretty much everyone's way of relaxing and of getting away from the world. But sports, and each league, is made up of people and people behave as human beings. So we can't have this strong divide and keep politics out of sport because people are political and that can't be separated.

At this juncture in history, where people are talking and having tough conversations, bad actors are being called out. Right now, you can't do anything "off" in the public eye without being called out for it. I think that is important to advancing the conversation with regard to racism both in society and in the league. I also believe that the younger generation is starting to become more empowered and it's going to get to a point where everyone has to put up or shut up. You're going to have to show us that you're about change and MLB is going to have to get to that point in order to even survive. 

We're moving beyond my grandfather's America. We're moving beyond the game that the older generations watched. I do think change will happen.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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