Forty-eight hours ago America celebrated Memorial Day. Being a Vietnam-era veteran I will always be fully cognizant of the sacrifices and blood that American men and women have shed and will shed on battlefields across the globe.
In an article written in June, 2004 by Robert Mizell titled “Athletes’ contributions to war diminishing,” published by the St. Petersburg Times, Mizell says, “Far from their fields of play, in venues that could be vulgar, where there were no home runs, touchdowns or other goals of sport, some of our most notable athletes earned a long, caring D-Day ovation.
“Some were injured. Some died. Mostly, it was long ago when American jocks of stature left cheering stadiums for far nastier games in World War II and Korea.”
Mizell continues on, saying, “Big leaguers weren’t wealthy in 1941, when Pearl Harbor created patriotic itch. There was a military draft where first-rounders weren’t celebrated; they were prepared for European trenches or fighting in the Pacific. Ted Williams was joined by a landslide including Bob Feller, Enos Slaughter, Warren Spahn, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dizzy Dean, Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, the latter a man who wasn’t yet allowed in the majors because he was Black.
However, I am disturbed by the current social and economic conditions in and out of the world of sports. Almost a decade ago I talked with the great Frank Robinson, the only player to win baseball’s MVP award in both the American and National Leagues. Robinson was also the first African-American big league manager.
When I asked him about the late Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in MLB and how it affected society as a whole, Robinson said, “What happens in sports generally reflects what is currently happening in society.” He also pointed out that “the visibility of Jackie Robinson allowed White America and corporate America to become more comfortable with the presence of African-American men.”
Even the slice of pie of America’s first great game, MLB is putting up grave numbers in regards to the participation of Black athletes. The Huffington Post published an article in April confirming the dwindling number of Blacks entering baseball. The article says,“MLB received an A for race and a B for gender hiring in the annual study released by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. Among major leaguers, though, the number of African-American players dropped from 10.2 percent to 9 percent last season (2009). The sport had made a small stride since reaching a low of 8.2 percent in 2007, but the latest data indicates a steady rise among African-American players might be years away.
“I think it’s a reflection now of the long-standing fact that African-American youths are playing basketball and football more than baseball,” institute director Richard Lapchick said. “It’s ironic only because the role of people of color running baseball is dramatically increasing.” Boys and girls, allow me to ask you this question. Why is it because the management fellows in the front office make far less loot than the boys on the field?
Recently, I discussed with you the fact that playing baseball presented less “academic” obstacles for young Americans, especially Black Americans because MLB does not worry so much about G.P.A averages or SAT scores. Major league baseball is more concerned and rightly so about, E.R.A(s), batting averages and stolen base percentages. We have to saturate the mental sponges of young Black males, enlightening them to the fact that they should not rule out any options for success whether it be athletic or academic. There are private and intimate Memorial Day celebrations every day in urban America. Just look at the crime stopper reward billboards and the RIP T-shirts that adorn the mourning family members and friends of mostly young victims of violence.
Dating from the times of the our Civil War, Black Americans have had to fight just for the opportunity to fight. When our predecessors were granted the opportunity to stand up for their country, they were not allowed to “stand with” and fight beside their countrymen. Larry Doby fought for America but his biggest fight was not with Adolf Hitler on the battlefields of Europe. Doby had succeeded in winning the game of survival between life and death. He now had to fight and win the war for the pursuit of liberty and happiness at home.
Before, during and after every Memorial Day we must all take a vow to make the quality of life better for all living Americans and as the holy Bible says, “Let the dead bury the dead.”
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412.583.6741.)