MLB made an historic commitment to grow diversity in the game.
On Monday afternoon in Denver, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred took the stage with Rockies owner Dick Monfort, former Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and former Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson. MLB let the media know the commissioner was going to make a “significant announcement” before the Home Run Derby.
Significant was an understatement.
Major League Baseball committed at least $100 million across 10 years to The Players Alliance and will help raise an additional $50 million aimed at increasing the number of Blacks playing the baseball.
This commitment begins in 2023.
“This is about getting kids that maybe wouldn’t be able to play baseball, the opportunity to play baseball,” Montfort said. “This was a big ask for owners to give up this money, even though it comes from central baseball. Central baseball is owned by the 30 clubs.”
Commitment to diversity, inclusion
Baseball has developed a troubling lack of American Black players; we make that distinction because, when Chris Rock said there were no Black players in MLB a few years ago, David Ortiz was quick to respond.
But an unwillingness to embrace diversity isn’t unique to only Black players in MLB.
And, sadly, many around the game don’t help the situation.
A lot of attention for baseball’s events on Monday was stirred by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith firmly placing his foot in his mouth (head in his… posterior) with his comments earlier in the day that Shohei Ohtani “shouldn’t be the face of baseball” because he doesn’t speak English.
That type of ignorant racism from a rightsholder should be troubling to MLB. It certainly was to many of Smith’s colleagues at ESPN and virtually everyone on social media. If we eliminate players who don’t speak English well from being eligible to be the “face” of baseball, we’re acting like Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Ronald Acuna Jr, Jose Abreu, Ohtani and so many others aren’t superstars.
Also, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that this announcement was made in Denver because MLB moved the All-Star Game out of Atlanta because of new, more restrictive voting laws that were passed in Georgia earlier this year.
Players still wore Henry Aaron’s No. 44 for practice and media day on Monday.
This initiative, coupled with MLB’s decision to move the game out of Atlanta, are the strongest stance any professional sport has taken to affect change in communities of color at a corporate level.
And it should be applauded by everyone.
“Major League Baseball’s commitment to support the Players Alliance is a monumental turning point in the history of our game, establishing a pathway to progress for equity and access for the Black community,” said Granderson. “On behalf of our player members and allies, we’d like to thank Commissioner Manfred and all MLB Club owners for their unwavering support of our efforts to grow and diversify our sport, from the field to the front office, for generations to come.”
Why the Alliance?
The Players Alliance was launched last year. Its mission statement is “To create an inclusive culture within baseball and the community, where differences are leveraged to elevate racial equality and provide greater opportunities for the Black community, both in our game and the places we live in, play in, and care about most.”
According to the Alliance’s website, 143 current and former players are part of the group and they have already donated more than $41.7 million to Black communities across the United States.
Last September, MLB and the Major League Players Association announced a $10 million commitment to the organization. Additionally, more than 500 players donated all or a portion of their gameday salaries from this year’s Jackie Robinson Day (April 15) to the group.
“Major League Baseball is thrilled to expand our commitment to the Players Alliance, which will include joint efforts to strengthen our sport’s engagement with Black communities,” Manfred said Monday. “We believe in the mission of the Players Alliance and have been inspired by the passion and perspectives of the players who are leading this effort. We know that our sport is at its best when it is accessible to everyone. Together, we will make this a reality with innovative and collaborative programs.”
The Players Alliance is the unification of so many incredible, individual efforts. Granderson and Sabathia are two of the great ambassadors for the game of their generation, and each has done truly remarkable things in markets in which they grew up and/or played during their careers.
What will they do?
According to Major League Baseball’s release about the relationship, the specific details of the kinds of programs that this funding will support include:
- Programs aimed at increasing the participation of Black youth and young adults in baseball, including funding leagues, equipment, tournaments, clinics, playground activities and other similar efforts;
- Programs designed to attempt to increase the number of Black employees and contractors in all positions and at all levels associated with professional baseball, such as funding for education and training, counselling, internship programs, recruitment programs, and other programs designed to transition players from the field to accounting, managerial, coaching, front office positions and the general business of baseball;
- Programs to promote and support Jackie Robinson Day, appreciation days for the Negro Leagues, and other activities which celebrate and encourage Black participation in baseball and in the business of baseball;
- Player-led mentorship program determined and developed by the Players Alliance;
- Black cultural awareness, camps, and other programs designed to increase participation in the sport and eliminate barriers to such participation;
- Programs to support baseball in public schools and city schools; and
- Educational grants, scholarships and additional community services to the Black community.
For as critical as we have been of Rob Manfred as commissioner of MLB here and elsewhere, he should be praised for this commitment. It’s necessary to make baseball at the highest level the best it can be — and is a small step in trying to create a better society.