Downplaying success

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on April 15, 2007

Sixty years ago today Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers and baseball's color barrier was shattered. This was seven years before the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education was decided. It was 17 years before the groundbreaking Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.

For the past week there's been article after article looking back at that seminal moment in U.S. history. Padres pitcher Chris Young wrote his senior thesis at Princeton on Jackie Robinson.

Robinson was a unique individual. He was a talented baseball player, of course, but it takes someone with unusually strong character to weather the abuse, hatred and vitriol that Robinson did -- all the while performing at an elite level.

There are few that could accomplish a similar feat today. The culture of victimhood has reached an almost epidemic level that instead of standing tall and defiant in the face of stupid displays of racism, we have ritualized whining. Why should the women of the Rutgers basketball team give radio shock jock Don Imus the additional press that went along with their meeting and his apology. Some complained that Imus' remark had "ruined" their season. It shouldn't have. And it wouldn't have if they had the strength and pride that Jackie Robinson had those many years ago.

American society has come a long way in 60 years. We aren't at the point where racism is a thing to only studied in history books, but we're closer to that point than we are to that April day when Robinson stepped onto the grass at Ebbets Field.

As a society we've still got issues to overcome, and one of them is evidenced by one of the more disappointing storylines repeated periodically in the last week: Is the decreasing number of black professional baseball players in recent years evidence of some sort of racism? Is it evidence that the success of black athletes that Robinson allowed to happen all for naught?

An article by the Associated Press' Mike Fitzpatrick makes that case when it asks "Has baseball betrayed Jackie Robinson?"

As Major League Baseball prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Robinson's landmark achievement on Sunday, there are growing concerns about the sport's racial makeup.

Only 8.4 percent of big league players last season were black -- the lowest number in at least two decades. In 1995, 19 percent of major leaguers were black, according to Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

With the exception of a cover story in Sports Illustrated several years ago asking "Whatever happened to the white athlete?" no one voices similar concern over the decline in the number of white Americans in professional basketball.

Why?

Because we've gotten past the point in sports where race is perceived as a barrier to entry. You've got black professional hockey players. Black swimmers. Black rodeo cowboys. Heck, Jamaica has a bobsled team.

But we haven't gotten past the point where we're done counting people by race. We haven't gotten past the point where we will simply accept that some sports are simply more popular with certain communities than others.

Blacks today have so much more freedom than they had 60 years ago. Blacks have the freedom to pursue careers as professional baseball players, professional basketball players, lawyers, doctors, generals and astronauts. We shouldn't bemoan the good choices that they make.

Unfortunately, our society still has a ways to go.

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