Richard Justice

Jones takes stand with remarks

Historically ahead of curve, MLB eyes further progress

Jones takes stand with remarks

Adam Jones has inserted himself into a difficult and necessary conversation about race, politics and protest in sports. Let's begin with that last part. Of course, players should be able to make a gesture aimed at focusing on injustices in this country. Protest is one of the pillars on which this country was built.

"Here's my biggest thing," the Orioles' center fielder told reporters on Monday, "society doesn't mind us helping out the hood and the inner cities, but they have a problem when we speak about the hood and the inner cities. I don't understand it."

Protest is supposed to be disruptive and uncomfortable. Otherwise, it does nothing. Jones was speaking generally of NFL players offering visible gestures like kneeling or holding a fist in the air during the playing of the national anthem.

Whether kneeling during the national anthem, especially on Sept. 11, a sacred day, is the right thing to do, well, that's for each to decide. From Rosa Parks in Birmingham to Martin Luther King Jr., in Selma, from the sanitation workers of Memphis to the lunch counters of Greensboro, change isn't possible without people using whatever voice they have to make a statement.

When Jones was asked by USA Today if he could imagine baseball players offering protests during the national anthem, he said that they probably wouldn't out of fear of putting their jobs at risk. Then he added this: "Baseball is a white man's sport."

That one is complicated. Baseball's history in this area is a proud one. Jones should never forget this part of the story. It, too, was once a disruptor. Jackie Robinson broke the sport's color line in 1947 a year before President Harry Truman integrated the Army, seven years before the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education ruling and nearly a decade before King began leading the fight for racial fairness.

King said often that Robinson playing for the Dodgers was an important first step in convincing Americans to see the world in a different way. There would be years of sacrifice and pain ahead, but an African-American man playing in a Major League Baseball game in 1947 was a monumental turning point for the United States of America.

Baseball has embraced Robinson's contributions by retiring his No. 42 and celebrating the April 15 anniversary of his first game every season. Movies and documentaries have followed in recent years, and now Jackie Robinson has come to represent the countless people who suffered incomprehensible indignities to make this country a better place.

Is there still work to do? Absolutely. Always. In baseball, for example, African-Americans comprised just 8.3 percent of MLB's Baseball's Opening Day rosters, which as Commissioner Rob Manfred said, "is not a number we love."

That's a steep decline from 19 percent in 1986. However, that number is going to change and rapidly thanks to an assortment of initiatives to give every kid in this country a chance to play baseball.

In the past five years, 34 of 168 first-round Draft choices -- 20.2 percent -- have been black players, and at least half of them had been involved in an MLB-sponsored program.

MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) has more than 230,000 kids participating. Baseball's six Urban Youth Academies have more than 20,000 kids in programs aimed at preparing them to play baseball or to work at some level of the industry.

Baseball has hosted several MLB Diversity Business Summits to assist in identifying and interviewing candidates for positions at every level of the business.

And there's this: Baseball has never been more diverse than it is right now. Thirty-six percent of Major League rosters on Opening Day were composed of either black (8.3 percent) or foreign-born players (27.5 percent). There is no other major sport where the players on the field are a better representation of the U.S. population at large, with players coming from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Venezuela, Germany, Mexico, South Korea and Australia, just to name some.

Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, gave MLB an A for its diverse hiring practices.

However, Lapchick emphasizes there's still work to be done in both front offices and the dugout. At the moment, baseball has just two managers of color -- Dusty Baker of the Nationals and Dave Roberts of the Dodgers. In addition, there are only three top African-American baseball executives -- Kenny Williams of the White Sox, Michael Hill of the Marlins and Dave Stewart of the D-backs.

Baseball is aware of this issue, and recently hired a search firm, Korn Ferry, to help prepare candidates, especially those from underrepresented groups, for the interview process.

In short, the issues that Jones raised are part of a conversation baseball is ready to have. And in speaking out, Jones is doing his part to make all of us more aware of the sometimes uncomfortable intersection of race and sports and society.

Commissioner Manfred is committed to doing the right thing as both a business and moral imperative. It's ongoing, forever. That's something that Adam Jones -- and all players -- should be able to recognize deep down.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.