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Blacks and Baseball
Posted by Jason Thornbury at 4/16/2008 4:50:00 PM
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Yesterday was Jackie Robinson day around the majors, and today Ken Griffey Jr. discusses in this column why fewer and fewer blacks play baseball. In part, he blames the media for focusing too much on Barry Bonds instead of positive black role models in the game.

Maybe that has something do with it, but Torii Hunter brings more insight to the discussion on this week's HBO Real Sports. In an interview with Bryant Gumbel, Hunter says baseball is a game passed from fathers to sons, but today two-thirds of African-American children are born without fathers. You can shoot a basket by yourself, but you can't play catch with yourself. (Griffey illustrates Hunter's point. Talking about his baseball experience, as he tells a story about ... his dad.)

Hunter's point is well taken, but a perhaps more important factor is buried in another story on Real Sports. Gumbel also interviewed Barack Obama about his love of basketball. Obama, who grew up with a white mother and lived among few blacks in places like Hawaii, says at one point that part of his interest in the game as a boy was identifying with black culture.

I do not think Obama is unique in this regard. Today, group identity -- race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever -- is defined by beliefs and actions, instead of just being, as if it were a political statement that must extend into nearly every life choice, from food to art to education -- even the sport you play.

High school kids aren't explicitly thinking in those terms, of course. But the superior value of group identification has been ingrained in big ways and in small ways, and it all amounts to the same thing -- fall in line or you're not "real" enough. Thus, because he didn't take the traditional black path to power, Obama isn't black enough. Because he is a Republican, Lynn Swann is an Uncle Tom. Because basketball is the black man's game, you better play it. Group identification begets group think.

That's not the sum of it; Hunter's point, socio-economic factors, baseball's failure to market itself, etc. are all in the soup too. But I think group identification might be at the heart of it.


I think another factor is that basketball's cheaper. You can play on the asphalt court with just one ball for 10 kids. For baseball, you need a grass field, bats, gloves, etc. Plus, as you point out, you can play hoop by yourself or one on one. Baseball takes a lot more organizing.

But the whole group identity thing probably plays a part, too - I played lacrosse in high school because our baseball team sucked and all my friends were on the lacrosse team. Looking back on it, I'd probably rather have played baseball even though we won a lot in lax.
Posted by cliss at 4/16/2008 6:46:00 PM
i definitely agree with the group-think model. baseball is seen as a white sport, and basketball is a black sport; just as hip hop is consider black music and rock is white music (despite mos def's best efforts to revive chuck berry's ghost). everyone at my all-white elementary school played baseball because, well, everyone at my school played baseball. after college i taught in an all-black elementary school, and all of the boys claimed that their #1 goal in life was to play in the nba -- ignoring the fact that about 2 of them actually played on the school's team. it had nothing to do with being good at basketball -- or even enjoying playing -- and everything to do with what everyone else was doing.
Posted by claskowski at 4/17/2008 7:21:00 AM
Baseball by far is becoming more and more of a Latino Sport where there are many great athletes filling the majors and minor leagues. If the NBA is at least 80% Black should we take initiatives to bring more White or Latino players in the league. Folks not everything is going to be perfectly balanced among everything, I think if we look at the big picture in sports (at least the major ones in this country) you will find that things balance themselves out. We don't have to be so "PC Crazy" as to think we have to mandate everything. I do believe there is validity in Tori Hunter's statement. Isn't is amazing that although Tiger Woods has a mixture of Asian and Black as parents he is still considered Black by the mainstream media? We can't label things when and where we want to and think it will make sense in the end because it simply wont. It would be interesting to see if Tiger didn't turn out to be "Tiger" would he have been considered "Eldrick" in color?
Posted by 3puttblues at 4/17/2008 12:57:00 PM

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