LADY AT THE BAT: Walking In Memphis, Part 2

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Walking In Memphis, Part 2

Per my previous post, I finally got a break from the fragrance conference I'm attending and went home to watch the Civil Rights Game. The game itself wasn't that exciting: St Louis beat Cleveland 5-1. What was exciting was the parade of guests through the ESPN broadcast booth. The game was in progress when I got home, so I don't know who I missed. However, it was great listening to Lou Brock, Dave Winfield, and Philadelphia Inquirer Assistant Sports Editor Claire Smith, all of whom had their opinions about why African-Americans now make up only 8% of Major League Baseball.

The general consensus is that there are several reasons: 1) There are many other sports for black youths to choose from these days. (Before, when blacks made up 20% of baseball, it was more popular than football and basketball.) 2) Developers are taking away the wide open spaces formerly used to play pick-up games. 3) Kids need more supervision today. (Years ago parents thought nothing of letting their children go off unsupervised for five hours at a time to play baseball with their friends.) 4) It costs more money to play baseball than it does to play other sports.

I agree with all of these reasons, but I also think marketing has a lot to do with it (which probably goes back to reason number 1 above). It can start with something as simple as music. When I watch promos for the NBA, I often hear hip hop music or at least something that sounds urban, something that a young African-American person can relate to when he hears it. When I see a promo for MLB, I see nicely produced spots, with either rock or pop music playing on their soundtracks. Why not play some rap music? Also, play it in the ballparks as well. Would it be asking too much to have a musical act that a black kid can relate to at an All-Star Game one year?

Another problem I see is the difficulty we all have in understanding that there is such a thing as cultural diversity. Several years ago, when the Harlem Little League made it to the Little League World Series, they were America's darlings from the inner-city, a sign that baseball was on its way back to being popular amongst black youth. But when the kids from Harlem started celebrating home-runs and wins more enthusiastically than kids did on other teams, nobody wanted to root for them anymore. One New York City sportstalk show host actually said, "I don't want to root for them anymore." They were "showing up the opposition," "styling too much," had "no sportsmanship," etc. News Flash: This is what goes on in the inner-city. The Harlem Little League understood that. If a team from Middle America, USA did that to them, they'd know they'd have to "handle it" as the saying goes.

I hope things change. I hope the percentage of African-Americans in Major League Baseball goes back up to 20%, then climbs past that. I don't want to see what Dave Winfield fears will happen: Seeing his son in a Major League game and saying, "He's the last African-American to ever play in Major League Baseball."

The Lady

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