MLB missed an opportunity on Jackie Robinson Day: ‘No justice, no baseball’

The chants outside of Busch Stadium on Friday echoed the message baseball players across the country had sent by sitting out of games earlier this week.

“No justice, no baseball.”

Writers covering the game between St. Louis and Cleveland reported that the protesters’ voices wafted through the park without real crowd noise to drown them out.

And yet, MLB let a player-led demonstration that started on Wednesday and built momentum Thursday peter out on Jackie Robinson Day.

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That’s not to diminish the conversations sparked by MLB players’ involvement in a movement that started with the NBA.

The Milwaukee Bucks called for justice for Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who Kenosha police shot in the back seven times, plus police and criminal justice reform. The NBA and WNBA postponed days of games. Only one MLS game continued on Wednesday.

Three MLB games postponed on Wednesday turned into seven on Thursday. Several individuals – including the Cubs’ Jason Heyward – pulled themselves out of lineups in solidarity.

Members of The Players Alliance, a group of over 100 Black current and former professional baseball players, donated their game-day salaries from Thursday and Friday to promote racial justice and support Black communities.

Those accomplishments should be celebrated.

But as baseball continued as usual on Friday, with just the numbers on the jerseys changed a couple hat tips to Jackie Robinson, it also became clear that Major League Baseball hasn’t figured out its place in the current social justice movement.  

  

On the same date, 57 years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Aug. 28, 1963.

His hopes for a unified future are the passages most often quoted. Less well known is the section if his speech in which he addressed the urgency of the moment.

“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” he said. “… The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

The NBA understood that. The Bucks reportedly decided not to take the floor for their playoff game against the Magic on Wednesday without notifying the rest of the league. But the other teams quickly joined their demonstration. And when the players agreed to return, they did so under three conditions:

  1. The NBA and its players will immediately establish a social justice coalition.
  2. Every franchise that owns and controls its arena will work with local officials to convert it into a voting site for the 2020 general election.
  3. Every NBA playoff game will include advertising spots for promoting civic engagement.

Major League Baseball’s response wasn’t nearly as swift.

“Why is it so hard to do something unified for 1 day,” Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty Tweeted on Thursday. “Just 1 day.”

Heyward pointed out the difference in demographics between the NBA and MLB. According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 74.2 percent of NBA players identified themselves as Black or African American, compared to 7.5 percent of MLB players.

“It goes back to our message as African American players,” Heyward said, “that we can’t use that as an excuse not to speak up and not to step in.”

They did, as individuals and as The Players Alliance. But the rest of baseball had an inconsistent response.

A league that on Opening Day had worn Black Lives Matter t-shirts and featured a “unity” cloth during the national anthem in ballparks across the country was disjointed. The player-initiated movement ran out of fuel.

In its indecision – its uncertainty of its role – Major League Baseball missed an opportunity on Jackie Robinson Day. For years, the league has been celebrating Robinson’s legacy while, to borrow King’s words, taking “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

On Friday, MLB remained under its influence.

 

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MLB missed an opportunity on Jackie Robinson Day: ‘No justice, no baseball’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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