Dr. King was a great man who achieved great things in this country. Not only did his actions help to directly end legal segregation, but he also helped to begin the erosion of racism in the minds of many people. This year marks the 40th year of his death, and while great progress has been made, we still see a lot of racism in this country today against black people and numerous other minorities.
To me, it's interesting to look at sports in general and baseball specifically as a microcosm of the larger racial issues in this country. We have seen numerous examples of racial issues in the last year:
- Gary Sheffield commented on two such issues: 1) That Joe Torre treated his black players differently from his other players, and yet somehow isn't racist according to Sheffield and 2) That Latino players are preferred by baseball management because they are easier to control (again, according to Sheffield.)
- C. C. Sabathia and others came out and complained about the lack of black pitchers.
- There are disparities at other positions too. Take a look at the list of catchers who had at least 100 PAs this past year. Of those 58, my quick count revealed only 15 minority catchers, and they are pretty much all Latino. I may have missed it, but I didn't notice a single black catcher on there. This raises questions, including why are there no black catchers, and also why is Sabathia concerned about there being few black pitchers, but not about there being no black catchers?
Finally, this brings me to one of the things that I do love about baseball. While I am not so naive as to say that baseball fans are blind to race, I believe that baseball (and sports in general) gives people the opportunity to practice judging people by their behavior and performance and not by how they appear. Boston is a great example of this. It's a city that has not had a very good reputation for accepting minorities, especially black people, and yet over recent years the fans have embraced many minority players without hesitation, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, Alex Gonzalez, Coco Crisp, Kevin Youkilis, Pokey Reese, Pedro Martinez, and many others, not to mention the two biggest fan favorites: David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. The acceptance of all of these players has to do with the performance and enthusiasm (except in Manny's case, heh) and comes without consideration of color, background, or religion.
This is one of the big reasons why I love listening to baseball on the radio. While you can surmise the race of many players (especially those with Latino names, although more and more Latino ballplayers are born in the US and are American citizens), in many cases you can't. Sticking with the Red Sox as an example, it's impossible to listen to games and interviews on the radio and know the race of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kason Gabbard, Clay Buchholz, Devern Hansack, and many other players. Listening on the radio makes you truly color blind and gives you no opportunity to pass judgment on a player based on race.
It might sound dumb, but I think this sort of thing is really helping our society to quash racism. While I think it's great that somebody like Barack Obama is getting so much support politically, the media is constantly highlighting what's different about him, including the fact that he's black, that he comes from a Muslim family, and that his father was born in Africa. Obama's candidacy, I believe, does more to create division in many people's minds (by constantly reinforcing differences between people) than to eliminate racism. In many ways, I wish we elected people simply by comparing applications showing their past achievements, voting records, and essays on what they intend to do if elected. Keep the names, genders, races, religions, and other personal data off the applications, because those things are not important in terms of their ability to do the job well.
But we're far away from anything like that yet. America is one of the few democracies in the world to not yet have a minority or woman hold the top political office. That's pathetic. Since sports are getting closer to being fully integrated themselves, I hope more of our children will grow up without turning to someone's differences as the primary way of defining their worth.