It is no secret that there used to be a distinct color line within American Baseball. This segregation barred players of African-American descent from playing in the Major League Baseball (MLB) and associated leagues. UCLA Alum Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was the first player to break this line, on April 15, 1947, when he started on first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Fast forward 75 years to the current 2022 Phillies-Astros World Series, and one would imagine things would have well and truly changed for the better. However, this World Series is in fact the first one since 1950 that fields no Black players born in the United States.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics at the University of Central Florida publishes an annual report, nicknamed the TIDES, which presents statistics on the MLB’s diversity demographics. In 1995, the league reported 19% of the player demographic to be Black or African American players. According to 2022’s report, the percentage of Black or African American players is 7.2%, a decrease of 0.4% from 2021. Often ignored, this trend exists off the field and in the front office as well. The TIDES report graded MLB’s racial hiring as subpar in almost every employee category. Currently, 82.8% of vice presidents in the league are White, and 92.3% of CEOs are White. An explanation of these astonishing numbers are the existing structural factors in place today within the MLB.
The origin and growth of the academy concept to scout new talent in the 1980s, specifically in Caribbean and South American countries is one of the aforementioned factors. The Dominican Republic is a hub for low-cost player academies for all teams, with the LA Dodgers being the first to set up theirs. Talent from overseas is brought in, with the development process costing less than what it would for domestic players from minority communities. The academies that do exist in the country are a source for a lot of players, are often elite and very expensive. International Management Group (IMG) is one such example, with the percentage of Black players within IMG being the same as the percentage of Black players in the MLB. Lack of funding for college baseball programs is another issue, with college sports providing the main segway for young athletes to foray into the world of professional sports.
There are some measures being taken to fight this issue. Commissioner Manfred announced a $150M commitment to the Players Alliance starting 2023, with diversity improvement being a specific goal. However, it is necessary to put the right people in place within the MLB organization and franchises, to improve hiring practices and increase the focus on diversity. Holistic programs and education needs to be developed for those in charge, and most importantly, it is imperative that pipeline player-development programs are put in place to nurture talent from underrepresented communities within the sport.
Sports are ever present, it’s the pastime for households across the globe. The allure of game and competition is such that people all over the world, regardless of race, are inspired by sport. It influences everyone. In today’s mass media landscape, the reach of sports has grown exponentially. Keeping that in mind, it is crucial to provide everyone watching with hope and a sense of opportunity. It is crucial to use this platform for good, therefore it is imperative that issues like lack of diversity and representation be tackled.