Opinion: MLB missing its chance to support players, NBA, send united social-justice statement

Black Lives Matter is displayed on the scoreboard before the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Oracle Park. The two teams chose not to play on Wednesday amidst social and civil unrest. (Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Baseball still has such a long way to go — not nearly as far as the NHL, which has had its fair share of tone-deaf and cringe-worthy moments in their overarching, societal messages calling for justice — but still a long way to go nonetheless.

In the months since the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, throughout the ensuing protests and at times, riots, that have swept across a nation of exhausted Americans who have to fear for their lives because of the color of their skin, athletes and sports leagues have found their voice. 

The NBA, as it so often has in these times, has led the charge. 

All playoff games within the Orlando bubble on Wednesday were postponed as the NBA Players’ Association mulls over the possibility of boycotting the rest of the postseason to send a clear, concise message to the public while taking advantage of their platforms in peaceful, constructive ways.

Brooklyn Nets All-Star guard Kyrie Irving warned us that playing these games would serve as a distraction — which some Americans need during life in the times of unrest and COVID — but sometimes we need to be put in those uncomfortable situations to take the necessary steps forward as a country.

This is where baseball needs to step up. Far more than the postponement of the three games featuring the Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres. Though they must be commended for making such a decision.

But to have Major League Baseball make the same kind of statement the NBA made on Wednesday night would bring this movement to a completely different level.

In the discussion of things uniquely American, baseball is logically placed at the pantheon alongside the likes of the Constitution, apple pie, and revolution — you know, that tiny little action that helped us gain our independence from England.

For as long as there has been an America, the game has not lagged far behind. 

It was played while we cemented our place as a world power, while we fought both with each other and with enemies abroad, and while we grappled for labor and civil rights. 

Baseball is synonymous with America. Even if it has lagged in popularity behind the NBA and NFL. That’s why a disorganized front is lacking effectiveness. 

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, there were discussions across the league of teams walking onto the field as though they were about to play their games, only to walk off before the first pitch.

What a message that would have sent from a league that has been plagued by such mythic contradictions over the years.

The game that claimed to be for everyone, the game that many claimed to be a perfect representation of all that is right with the United States, ran Black Americans out of its ranks under a “Gentleman’s Agreement” in 1884.

The game that claimed to be for everyone, the game that many claimed to be a perfect representation of all that is right with the United States kept Black Americans barred from playing in its ranks for over 60 years.

The game that claimed to be for everyone, the game that many claimed to be a perfect representation of all that is right with the United States refuses to commit its immeasurable funds to grow the game, whether that is in our own backyard or abroad. Just 7.8% of MLB players are Black. 

What a message MLB could have sent if they showed solidarity with the NBA and took the night off, regardless of how angry it would make a portion of their fan base, or even their families. 

But they didn’t.

Instead, the three games are being tabbed more like isolated incidents. New York Mets star Dominic Smith was left to kneel by himself during the national anthem up the first-base line before Wednesday night’s game against the Miami Marlins — well away from his teammates.

No one approached him, no one put a hand on his shoulder, no one stood by his side. Instead, they said the scripted “we support anyone’s decision” while Smith fought through tears to explain why he kneeled and how not enough is being done. 

He isn’t wrong. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take baseball another century to get on the right side of history this time. 

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