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Honoring Jackie Robinson’s Legacy On Jackie Robinson Day

Jackie Robinson Day pays homage to the Hall of Famer who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.  Nearly 1,000 players, coaches and managers will be wearing No. 42 to commemorate the legacy of an American hero, pioneer, racial barrier obliterator, trendsetter and social activist. 

The popular focus around this time of year continues to be the lack of African-American representation in MLB which was only 7.7 percent on Opening Day 2017. 

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The Shadow League | The “Jackie Robinson Day” Elephant In The Room: http://t.co/NTSaZUFMNX by J.R. Gamble for The @ShadowLeagueTSL

Since TIDES (The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport) has been tracking Major League Baseball, this is the lowest number of African-American players taking the field on Opening Day. In 1991 more than 25 years ago 18 percent of all players were African-American, said Dr. Richard Lapchick, the primary author of The 2018 Major League Baseball Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC) and the director of TIDES at the University of Central Florida (UCF). 

 It has been 71 years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball and today it is as vital as ever that we remain focused on the dream he set forth for the sport. He saw a future where a diverse mix of people participated in baseball at all levels including on and off-field roles. 

MLB Network on Twitter

To me there’s no doubt that integrating baseball in 1947 was the first step to a lot of racial progress in this country.” @TonyDungy discusses Jackie Robinson’s cultural impact leading up to Jackie Robinson Day. #Jackie42 https://t.co/3ntecvfwn9

In 2017, as part of the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s debut, the Dodgers unveiled an 800-pound bronze statue depicting Robinson as a rookie sliding into home plate, placed in the left-field plaza, the most popular entrance to the park. 

Instead of it being a grand structure that represents the strength and impact of African-Americans in todays MLB, the numbers suggest it is more like a looming shadow looking down on baseball as a reminder of what once made the game Americas favorite sport.  

 There is still a long way to go to achieve Jackies goal, Lapchick concluded. 

Indeed, but African-Americans are merely one group out of million of humans who have directly benefited from Robinsons barrier-breaking endeavors. 

Jackie Robinson’s Impact Is Shining On A Global Scale

If we access the overall impact of Jackie Robinson as it relates to the current influx of foreign-born players on MLB rosters, we can see that his influence runs deep. With 42.5 percent of all players being of color, Major League Baseball has reached an all-time high among player diversity.  He broke the color barrier for every person who wasn’t white. 

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29% (254) of all players on MLB Opening Day rosters were foreign-born, hailing from a league record 21 countries.

According to MLB, a total of 254 players represented an all-time record 21 different countries and territories outside of the 50 United States on 2018 Opening Day 25-man rosters and inactive lists, marking another year of unprecedented diversity on Major League rosters.

The 254 players born outside the U.S. (29.0 percent) come from a record-high pool of 877 players (750 active 25-man roster players and 127 disabled, suspended, restricted or paternity leave Major League players) on March 29th rosters.  

The previous mark of 19 countries and territories represented on Opening Day rosters and inactive lists came in 2017. The 254 foreign-born players are the second-highest total in history, trailing last years 259, and the percentage of 29.0 is tied with 2007 for the third-highest figure in history, behind only 29.8 in 2017 and 29.2 in 2005.

Fox News on Twitter

MLB opens season with record percentage of foreign-born players https://t.co/SZn91URdpV

As it has each year since MLB began releasing this annual data in 1995, the Dominican Republic again leads the Major Leagues with 84 players born outside the United States. Venezuela ranks second with 74 players, while Puerto Rico places third with 19 players, it is the highest total since there were 20 in 2011.  

Rounding out the list is Cuba (17), Mexico (11), Japan (8), Canada (6), South Korea (6), Colombia (5, eclipsing the previous high of four from 2013-2015), Curaao (5, tied with 2014 for its record high), Australia (3), Brazil (3, eclipsing the previous high of two from 2015-2017), Nicaragua (3), Panama (3), Aruba (1); Germany (1),Lithuania (1); Netherlands (1), South Africa (1); Taiwan (1), and the U.S. Virgin Islands (1).  

Torontos Gift Ngoepe, a native of Pietersburg, South Africa, is the first South African-born player, as well as the firstborn in the continent of Africa, to make an Opening Day roster. Pittsburghs Dovydas Neverauskas, a native of Vilnius, Lithuania, is the first Lithuanian-born player to appear on an Opening Day roster in Major League history.  Both players made their Major League debuts in 2017.

CNN Africa on Twitter

South Africa’s Gift Ngoepe made his debut in Major League Baseball last year. He’s the first African-born player to do so: https://t.co/84YWlRyWaz

Robinsons dream of inclusivity extends to people of all races, creeds, and colors and nationalities being able to participate in pro baseball at the highest levels. We are living in that dream come true.

 Jackie Robinson’s Legacy Extends Far Beyond Black Baseball

Suggesting that Robinsons legacy isnt still resonating is a short-sided view. The lagging numbers concerning African-American participation on the field, in the front office and at managerial positions at the MLB level is real, but we can’t ignore that participation at the grassroots level is increasing for people of color globally, which is slowly but surely leading to more Black pro prospects.  

In the 2017 draft, eight of the top 26 players selected were African-American or Latino, Lapchick said. And since 2012, 20 percent of the players selected in the first round have been African-American. Lapchick noted that the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Annual Participation Data for 2017 showed promise that participation in baseball in general and among African-Americans, in particular, is increasing. 

The African-American community may not share the same exclusive cultural passion for baseball as Latinos because baseball for Dominicans, Venezuelans, and other Hispanic countries has become more than a game. Its the soul connection to rising out of Third World poverty and chasing the American Dream. African-Americans have the NFL and NBA as equally accessible options while college is also an option. 

The Education Crisis Crippling Dominican Baseball Players

Over the last few decades, the Dominican Republic has changed the face of American baseball by churning out talented players whose humble beginnings have helped cultivate a unique passion for the game. That passion is often due to dire circumstances that drive all focus to the diamond instead of the classroom.

When Jackie Robinson shattered baseballs color barrier, he also shattered racist, bigoted myths about people of color and opened the floodgates for the implosion of global talent in a sport that was once exclusively held captive by white, American males. Jackie should always be honored in grand fashion — by all people of color — for what he fearlessly and perfectly contributed to the history of this world. Its a masterpiece in progress.  

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