Baseball and blacks.
This spring, when the Washington Nationals played an exhibition baseball game against Bethune-Cookman College, the school fielded almost two dozen white and Latino players. The irony is that the Bethune-Cookman is a historically black institution. Today, just five of the 28 players on the roster are African American.
There are even fewer blacks playing for the Washington Nationals. When their season opened, the Nationals’ roster featured just two African Americans, outfielders Terrmel Sledge and J.J. Davis. Why are African-Americans deserting baseball, especially with such a rich history in the game?
Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947, the Negro League filled ballparks around the country. The Kansas City Monarchs played for 37 seasons (1920-30 and 1937-62) and were the longest running franchise. Dubbed the New York Yankees of the Negro League, the Monarchs featured such outstanding players as Cool Papa Bell, Turkey Stearnes, Jackie Robinson, and Buck O’Neil. After 1947, the Monarchs sent the most blacks to the major leagues – including Robinson, Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Hank Thompson and Willard “Home Run” Brown. By 1971, nearly one in four major league players was black.
But by 2004, the number had fallen to less than one in 10. John Young, a former scout, started a program in 1989 known as RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), but it has failed to curtail the decline. The new king is basketball, because – as Young and many others have observed – the hoops game is linked to the way blacks think and talk. “Young has seen how kids make the link between basketball and riches and, in some cases, even between basketball and a college education.”1 Baseball, on the other hand, has become disconnected from African-American life.
Disinterest and disconnection.
Disconnection leads to disinterest. For example, many men enjoy watching NBA basketball, especially during the playoffs. Not to sound too sexist, but their spouses are often indifferent. Why? To a large degree, professional basketball is not connected to a woman’s world of nurturing kids, school activities, balancing the family budget, keeping the house in order, and working. Many wives take a quick glance at a professional basketball game and only see bloated paychecks, egos, and monster dunks – all disconnected from their world.
Now throw-down dunks are certainly part of the modern game; but for some men, basketball is also about leadership, teamwork, athleticism, discipline, focus, and coordination – all the ingredients that go into any healthy enterprise, including a business. That’s why John Wooden, UCLA’s great coach in the 60s and 70s, is so widely admired. He spoke of basketball in terms of character development and teamwork. When basketball is described in these terms, it enjoys a great deal of overlap with the rest of life, including the way good business professionals talk. In other words, part of the intense interest comes from seeing a connection between basketball and the way we live and talk everyday.
Faith and life.
Respected author Dorothy L. Sayers believed “the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion”2 because there is a disconnect between the way we speak on Sunday and the way we talk the rest of the week. For example, we have “allowed work and religion to become separate departments,”3 according Sayers.
At The Clapham Institute, we think there is a way to understand the gospel so that the language of Sunday overlaps with Monday. And Tuesday. We realize that for most of us, “religious faith” is not a metaphor for the way we talk; especially in the business world. But it once was – and can be again. Connecting the world of faith and the workaday world is something a great many of us are looking for. Coming soon, we will be publishing a series of short, readable, USA Today-style books designed to help you connect Sunday to Monday. In the meantime, if you’re interested, enjoy the NBA playoffs!
1“Fading Image Of the Black Ballplayer: As Game Returns to D.C., Many African Americans Have Tuned Out Baseball,” by Barry Svrluga and Robert E. Pierre. Washington Post, Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page A01.
2The Mind of the Maker