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As MLB Season Starts, Baseball Joins The Social Justice Movement

Major League Baseball's players have been in conversation about how to incorporate social justice elements into the sport.

Who Wins World Series? 

Major League Baseball is set to launch on cable on July 23. First, the World Champion Nationals will host the Yankees at 7:08 p.m. ET, in a matchup that could showcase Gerrit Cole making his Bombers debut against three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Looking at the MLB odds page here, the Yankees are favorites to win this potential World Series preview, but it’s going to be a close game.

The Dodgers commence their quest for an eighth consecutive National League West crown against the Giants at Dodger Stadium (10:08 p.m. ET). The Dodgers are the favorites for this game.

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have both homered in Summer League games for New York. They look healthy and might actually be able to make it through the season without getting injured.

Social Justice Season

Major League Baseball returns at a time when race and social justice has moved to the forefront of every sports’ business agenda. The sport was at the forefront of helping to end segregation in America when Jackie Robinson integrated the game in 1947 and opened the flood gates for African-American players. 

Since that historical moment, which impacted the world as well, baseball has rarely tackled issues of racial inequality with industry-wide uniformity. In fact, the percentage of Black players in MLB has plummeted to less than 8 percent after peaking at 18.7 percent in 1981. 

Currently, baseball has just two Black managers, no Black general managers or owners. The George Floyd murder and protests have inspired a reevaluation of race relations, social justice and equality within the world of sports, where Black athletes usually dominate the field but are invisible in the leadership positions. 

Baseball is a bit different in racial composition, but it does have Black superstars representing the game, and some of those players, along with their white allies, have been in conversation about how to incorporate social justice elements into the sport, according to league and player sources.

It’s unclear what form the elements will take, whether it be some kind of logo placed on uniforms or something shared and fronted by players.

MLB Superstars Speak Out, Take Accountability

In the last month, the wheels of action have been put in motion. Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts, a former MVP, has been vocal about MLB and the role it should play in helping social justice endeavors in this country. 

Betts made his first appearance at a press conference with the Dodgers during the second rendition of Spring Training. Mookie discussed the Black Lives Matter movement across baseball and around the world. In his mind, MLB fell short. 

“Yeah, I think baseball did not do a good job with that,” Betts said. “But I think voices were heard and I think that’s the main thing is that we get our voices heard to make some changes. I know it’s not all gonna be at one time, but a little change here, a little change there and eventually we’ll get to where we need to be.” 

Colorado Rockies player Ian Desmond opted out of the 60-game season, citing social justice reasons. Desmond says he wants to focus on improving the little league baseball culture, the current culture within the game and working with the league to improve its talent pipeline of African-American athletes. 

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On my mind.

A post shared by Ian Desmond (@i_dez20) on

Los Angeles Dodgers players recently held a Zoom call led by Clayton Kershaw to talk about racial injustice, and their discussion resulted in a video released last week in support of Black Lives Matter.

This followed a video made by Black MLB players in June, showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a powerful statement from a league that has been criticized for creating a cultural disconnect with the Black community, but at the same time invests tons of resources in bringing the game to the urban community, providing affordable participation and identifying, coaching, and aspiring Black talent around the country.

Baseball mostly did not participate in the social justice conversation in sports after NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to kneel during the national anthem in 2016. Bruce Maxwell, a catcher with the Oakland Athletics, kneeled during the anthem in 2017, but he has since said that he felt unsupported by peers and by those in the sport.

The latest movement in this country has finally forced MLB to be the beacon of hope and racial equality that it once was and now the conversation has deepened and players are taking more personal responsibility for being champions for Black Lives Matter. 

“Obviously it’s more of a personal thing that I have to bring baseball into the black communities,” Betts added.”Obviously MLB can help but I think it’s on us, us as in the black players, to bring it to black communities. And kind of make baseball cool, because I think that’s where the disconnect is.” 

Each season, since 1997, the MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson Day. Then MLB-commissioner Bud Selig announced that the No. 42 would be forever retired across the league and eventually, every player in MLB started wearing No. 42 on that day to commemorate the memory of a legend of sports, civil rights and social justice. 

Being that MLB will commemorate Jackie Robinson Day this season on Aug. 28 and MLB is also acknowledging the Negro League centennial as well as the country’s need to heal from COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest, it’s the perfect time for MLB to continue to show support for social change and equality for all. 

So, while the games will lack fans and some of the excitement that live viewing from the stands provides, in this abbreviated season, MLB players have a chance to do more to reinvigorate the all-inclusive culture of the game while showing support for its players of color and reaffirming its historical place in the fight for racial equality in this country.

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