Last weekend, a vast number of major league baseball players, and even a few entire teams, wore number “42,” in honor of the great Jackie Robinson and his smashing of baseball’s “color” barrier. Cincinnati Red Ken Griffey Jr., an outstanding player in his own right, got the ball rolling by requesting that he be permitted to wear the number Robinson wore for so many years with the Brooklyn Dodgers. After Griffey’s original request, the rest of baseball latched on to the idea and it spread like wild fire. Robinson was a superb player and an outstanding ambassador for the game. It was fitting that so many felt compelled to honor a truly great player in this regard.
Clearly, there’s no place in our society for excluding someone based on the color of his or her skin. Robinson was a pioneer, but he was more than that. Yes, he overcame some incredibly ignorant “fans,” and what many consider to be insurmountable obstacles, but just how did he do it? It’s simple. He was an exceptionally talented baseball player and anyone who saw him play — even on film — would agree that he deserves his place in the MLB Hall of Fame. In short, he was able to get people to see past skin color to talent. There’s no question it took time for him to win over some detractors, but in the end he did.
Now let’s move to last week’s MLB game of the week on FOX. During the game, announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver displayed a chart depicting the percentage of African-American baseball players in modern-day baseball compared to Hispanic, White, and other players. Apparently the number is below ten percent. Keep in mind; they were referring to African-American players, not players of color who are very well represented due, largely, to the huge influx of Central and South American players over the last decade or so.
Joe Buck was appalled at the low number of African-Americans and stated vehemently “the commissioner needs to review this immediately.” I was quite surprised that Joe Buck was so distressed over this. If nothing else, Jackie Robinson showed the world of baseball that talent, and not color, should be the primary consideration in determining who should or should not be playing. While he never said it, I got the distinct impression Buck was advocating a sort of affirmative action for baseball instead of the current system based on ability. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it sounded to me. Now don’t misunderstand; I don’t think Buck is a race-baiter. I do, however, think he took the “PC” view on the issue.
Now fast-forward to this past weekend. Football fans around the nation were champing at the bit due to the annual National Football League draft. A true fan of the game uses the draft to assess the relative strength of “his” team compared to the other 31 based on which player or players his team is able to bring into the fold. It provides a great opportunity for fans of teams with a dubious history to dream of the possibilities now that the player they needed may be on board.
After more than six record-breaking hours, round one finally came to an end. Thirty-one teams selected the top 32 players in the nation. The Cleveland Browns drafted two players due to some wheeling and dealing. The racial mix of those selected immediately struck me; 25 or more were African-American, and the rest, something else. I fully expected the new NFL commissioner to announce an immediate review, as this is, by Joe Buck’s standard, totally out of whack. Yes, I say that with tongue firmly in cheek.
The point is this; there were so many African-Americans selected because they were deemed to be the best players available, not because the color of their skin was black. In my view, this is precisely the way it should be. The most qualified, most able people should get the jobs or positions available based on merit, not some arbitrary rule based on race or quotas.
I’m an average white guy and a die-hard New York Jets fan. I have been since the New York Titan days of the 1960s and the glory days of Joe Namath, Matt Snell, and Emerson Boozer. The current team is predominately African-American, and I’d be tickled to death if, by adding a few more African-American players, they could win another super bowl. In the end, isn’t that what really matters? It has nothing to do with skin color or ethnic background. It’s about putting the best person for a particular job in that job. For some odd reason I think Jackie Robinson would agree with me.