Making Black Lives Matter On and Off the Diamond

The election of Donald Trump and the upsurge of protest against police violence has catalyzed a new wave of activism among professional athletes. Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, LeBron James, and Sean Doolittle are among the growing number of athletes who have been using their celebrity platforms to speak out. Players on championship baseball, football, basketball, and soccer teams have refused to attend White House ceremonies with Trump. Entire leagues were shut down last month when players went on a political strike for Black lives following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

Baseball is the most conservative and tradition-bound of the major team sports. Moreover, the number of Black athletes on major league rosters has declined precipitously—from 18.7 percent in 1981 to 7.8 percent this season.

So it shocked the sports world when baseball teams joined the strikes for racial justice.

Baseball has struck out in promoting Black Americans at the management level. Only three of 30 MLB managers are Black—the Astro’s Dusty Baker, the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, and Tigers’ interim manager Lloyd Glenn McClendon. The Miami Marlins Michael Hill is the only Black general manager. There are no Black people among the 30 principal owners of MLB teams.

Perhaps it is no accident that MLB is Black Lives Matters (BLM) backwards.

Despite the legacy of social justice icons like Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Curt Flood, MLB has typically chosen to symbolically bathe in that history rather than confront the present. That is why it was welcome news last week when MLB, in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), announced a $10 million donation to the Players Alliance, a new organization of more than 100 current and former Black players who want baseball to take action for racial justice within and outside the sport.

Because the announcement was somewhat vague about how MLB and MLBPA will partner with the Players Alliance, we propose 10 initiatives (not all of which require money) to translate these good intentions into action.

If Major League Baseball wants to live up to the memory of Jackie Robinson, who was an activist as well as an athlete, it needs to do more than offer rhetoric that Black Lives Matter; it must match its words with deeds.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
Become an Edge of Sports Sustainer (Click Here)

Contact him at