When asked why the MLB isn’t getting national anthem protests like the ones going on in the NFL, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones had one heck of an answer.
“Baseball is a white man’s sport,” he said.
And as someone who grew up rattling off batting averages before I even knew what averages were, I had to ask myself: Is baseball really a white thing?
It’s not like you’ll only see Mike Trout and Bryce Harper jerseys at the ballpark.
I grew up with black and latino baseball heroes. I did a report on Jackie Robinson in the second grade. The baseball record book that my Dad bought me had one stat that I revered above all else: the all-time home-run record. And guess who was at the top of that list? Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. I even liked Barry Bonds back when he played. My favorite baseball player ever is David Ortiz, who hails from the Dominican Republic.
When I played baseball as a kid I was always aware of the fact that most of the kids did not look like me. Was it a problem? Nope. As long as you were cool with me I was cool with you. But it’s something that I was subconsciously aware of even at a young age. Despite this, I never thought of baseball as a white man’s sport.
Most of the players who play in the MLB are white — around 60 percent — and that stat actually lines up well with the racial demographics of the United States, in that white people make up just over 60 percent of the country’s total population.
From a demographical standpoint, if baseball is anyone’s sport it’s the “latino man’s” sport because despite making up under 20 percent of the U.S. population, players from Spanish-speaking countries comprise nearly 30 percent of the MLB.
Rocking the boat is more risky for a black baseball player than it is for a black football player
Jones’ point is that when it comes to protesting police brutality, the difference between the MLB and the NFL is the lack of black players. In terms of player representation, the NFL is a mostly black league. Meanwhile, less than ten percent of MLB players are black. If it came down to it, the MLB could play on without its black players. The NFL, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to survive in its current capacity without 68 percent of its player base.
That means that rocking the boat is more risky for a black baseball player than it is for a black football player, which is Jones’s explanation for the lack of protests in the MLB.
It’s also why it makes sense that Jones would call baseball a “white man’s sport.” With twice as many players as the next race, white players dominate both in numbers and in culture. And if you contrast how baseball is viewed in black pop culture with how football and basketball are viewed, Jones’ point can be seen as truthful. By those measures, baseball certainly isn’t a black man’s sport.
But is it right for him to call baseball a white man’s sport? I don’t think so. It’s not like hockey, which is almost entirely white. Baseball has the Little League World Series, which showcases children from around the world playing the game each year. And baseball has a diverse group of stars. It’s not like you’ll only see Mike Trout and Bryce Harper jerseys at the ballpark. You’ll see plenty of Ortiz, McCutchen, and Ichiro jerseys too.
I get what Jones was saying. Protesting is a different deal for him than it is for Colin Kaepernick or Brandon Marshall.
But to me, calling baseball a white man’s sport is like calling America a white man’s country. There was a time when both statements were undeniably true. White men used to be the only group of Americans with voting power. They also were the only ones who could play baseball.
Now, the split is 60-40 between whites and minorities in the MLB. That difference alone is enough to make me hesitate when people go for the label of “white man’s sport.”
Baseball does not have the most diverse fanbase in sports. It’s also not immune to the systemic problems that keep people of color out of leadership positions. But at the same time the sport has made lots of progress both on and off the field and that should be acknowledged. If baseball can change its ways, then we should be able to change the way we describe it. And that means we should stop calling it a white man’s sport.