Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball is mostly a day of celebration. All players wear jersey No. 42 in honor of the first player to break MLB’s color barrier. Some guys do even more as a tribute. But inevitably, one issue that comes up each year is the declining number of African-American players in the game.
Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd, who comprises part of the 8% of black players in MLB, is sick of the negative focus.
“If you want to take polls, then take polls asking how many black lawyers do we have now, or how many black judges or black doctors there are now,” Byrd said Sunday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Just because we’re black doesn’t mean we have to play sports. You can go through other avenues. If the decrease (in baseball) is because they’re going into academic fields, so be it. More power to them.”
Byrd may have been partially bothered by a recent newspaper article that focused on the lack of black players on the two Chicago baseball teams that used the headline “Black Hole,” but he makes a fair point. Should the day be about celebrating Robinson and what he did, or focusing on the decline of African-Americans in the game? What about celebrating the way the game has gone global to include the best players around the world?
Byrd told USA Today he hopes there will be more black players in the next 5-6 years. MLB is confident the situation will improve thanks to their efforts with urban academies and the annual Civil Rights Game.
Regarding Byrd’s point that he hopes the decline is because more black males are going into academic rather than athletic fields, I think the issue may be that many talented black athletes choose sports other than baseball. MLB instituting new draft policies that cap the amount of money teams can spend on draft picks isn’t helping baseball’s efforts to sway players away from other sports.
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