Commentary: Can the MLB Find a Way to Attract Black Youth?

In the 21st century, there hasn't been much traction with African-American boys and baseball.

Posted: 04/16/2014 05:08 PM EDT

Major League Baseball celebrated on tax day the anniversary of its color barrier falling like the Berlin Wall. League officials have used April 15 as their chance to salute Jackie Robinson for blazing a trail to the majors for other men of color.

But any such salute seems hollow these days.

While Major League Baseball has no quasi-official barriers to stop Blacks or any other race from taking the field, the league has done hardly anything in the post-Jackie Robinson era to keep the man’s memory alive among the folks who might appreciate him best.

To them, Jackie Robinson is a footnote in sports history, his life mostly forgotten by a generation of Blacks who should want to remember him. He might be looked at as a pioneer, but a pioneer of what?

For this generation of Black youth, baseball has forgotten them as much as they have forgotten baseball. The league doesn’t do what football and basketball have done for the past 20 years; it doesn’t find a way to market its Black stars.

After decades of benign neglect, I’m not sure that would have worked either, because Black boys stopped showing an interest in baseball somewhere along the way. They weren’t finding a deep roster of Major League stars — men who look like them, stars whom Black boys could fawn over as they do LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, John Wall, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant.

Those Black boys have heard baseball bemoan their absence, but they have seen nothing of substance from baseball to suggest the sport cares that it has lost those Black boys.

About a year ago, commissioner Bud Selig established a 17-member committee to explore the decline in participation among Black boys. His was another grand scheme to do what should have been done when the Black interest in baseball was going downhill faster than a bandwagon with no brakes. Blacks don’t watch the game; Blacks don’t go to games; Blacks don’t identify with the game.

Against that backdrop, Selig’s group was trying to figure out what it could do.

A year later, the committee hasn’t done much.

The game, as financially profitable as ever, has remained largely a sport that attracts whites and Latinos.

Yet what is wrong about that demographic? Not a damn thing.

For the same reason that not a damn thing is wrong with the lack of interest that Black boys show in NASCAR, hockey, golf or country music. Black boys have no reason to fall in love with activities in which they are invisible. Black boys have no reason to love a sport that doesn’t seem to love them back.

All the salutes to Jackie Robinson won’t change the latter. Nor will any blue-ribbon committee that Selig puts together to look at what baseball can do to revive Black interest.

“I somehow doubt that baseball is going to decide the AAU youth basketball model is something to emulate in order to attract African-American players,” freelance writer Bob Cook said in an essay for Forbes.com.

Perhaps Cook’s right, because Selig and the rest of baseball have waited too long to show they care about a segment of the population that once loved the game but don’t love it anymore.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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