C.C. Sabathia, starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, has highlighted a sad reality of today’s baseball demographics – "there aren’t many African-American players" (story at ESPN here). Just years after retiring Jackie Robinson’s number throughout Major League Baseball, celebrating one of the seminal strides in the civil rights movement, fewer and fewer African-Americans are playing baseball or even count themselves among the game’s fans.
I agree with Sabathia that this constitutes a crisis. It is important that our nation’s major institutions – and yes, I count Major League Baseball as a major institution in American culture – and particularly those that have endured for as long as baseball, reflect the diversity of our nation. We cannot simply shrug our shoulders and offer a resigned, "oh well" as baseball becomes increasingly irrelevant to Black America. Sport, and particularly baseball with its unique history and role in the civil rights movement, demands our efforts to make it an inclusive and culturally dynamic venture in which athleticism and skill, not skin color or culture, are determinative.