Reader Debate: Black Baseball and the Impact of Sports on Black Youth


Because Flournoy Over Riley is such a cool site, we are introducing a new segment called Reader Debates. If you, your friends, your parents, or your pets like to argue about race and sports, we would love for you to submit a debate on our Facebook page or through email.  You might be featured in our next reader debate.  Keep it relatively clean though.  

Two of our fans erupted in a Facebook debate on the disappearance of Black superstars in baseball after reading our article. It evolved in to more discussion about sports and culture in the Black community.  Do you agree? Disagree?   

RJ: I was talkin to my pops about this yesterday. I don’t know if there is a lack of Black superstars as much as baseball, in general, has taken a hit in popularity as of the last 15-20 years. Personally I would say globalization and steroids has a lot to do with that. We know Americans in general don’t like when other countries invade “our sports.” In the 90’s there weren’t as many international stars or players as there are now, plus baseball has always been the most resistant to adjusting to the times out of the “Big 3” sports and that’s hurting their youth appeal. As for today’s game, I would say there are less average Black players but the same number of stars, it’s just baseball doesn’t appear to the young folks anymore, its slower, less flashy but it’s always been that way it’s just the other sports have become quicker and more flashy and baseball has no way to keep up (no huddle, run and gun, fast break 3-pt offenses). I also don’t think Black folks not playing is too much of a recent development, I know when I was growing up we had a damn near all-Black all-star team but by the time we got to high school I was the last one standing. I was one of about 3 or 4 Black baseball players on our varsity team over about a 25 year span, but we had plenty of Black dudes at our school that could play. I would say if baseball wants to appeal to Black folks again they would have to make some changes to the game but I don’t know what that would even look like and I also don’t know if they too much care because financially, the MLB is doing just fine.

Ravi: There has been a shift of Black athletes from baseball to track and field. By time I left coaching in high school, very few good athletes opted to spend their spring doing baseball over track. The increased popularity of track among Black youth will prevent the more talented Black athletes from gravitating towards baseball.

RJ: I don’t think Black folks choosing track over baseball is anything new. 10-15 years ago Black people I knew were choosing track over baseball simply because that’s what all the Black people were doing. I was the only one who chose to go against the grain. That kind of pressure is tough on a high school kid and I tried like crazy to recruit more of my boys to play baseball with me and almost all of them have since said, that they wish they had played baseball because they actually liked baseball way more than track but it’s just what everyone was doing.

Ravi: There are Black people that choose soccer over baseball also, but that doesn’t show why baseball numbers are

One of the prevailing theories is that Black athletes are choosing track and field over baseball at younger ages, further depleting the Black baseball talent pool in America.

decreasing. I’m not talking about just picking one sport over another. I’m talking about an INCREASE in the number that are choosing track over baseball. The fact that anyone ran track could be seen as a Black person choosing track over baseball, so the fact that any Black person was running track in the past means that it isn’t new. What is new are the percentages. Larger percentages of Black youth are running track than in the past.

There have always been Black kids running track, but the numbers have exploded in the last decade. That increase coincides with the decrease in numbers of youth playing baseball.

RJ: Well, I’m still one of the few who love the game of baseball and think that if the sport can find a way to adapt to the times like basketball and football have, we can see a swing back to baseball amongst Black kids. It still pays the most money and statistically you have the best shot to get paid playing it in America. My kids don’t really have a choice, haha.

Ravi: Your odds are much better in making your children pursue investment banking. It is much easier to get into and the chances of million dollar bonuses are higher. I’m not interested in having my kids look to sports for career or wealth opportunities. I think that plays a role in our (Black America’s) under-performance academically. I would discourage my kids from pursuing any sports beyond just the love to develop and excel in that sport. But that’s another conversation.

You know what, let’s have that conversation.

RJ: Obviously I wouldn’t have my kids play a sport with the hopes of them becoming Albert Pujols, but baseball does pay more than the other American professional sports.

My father loves the game, I love the game, and dammit they’re gonna at least explore it. Chris Rock made that same point about how Black kids aren’t fans of baseball anymore because their fathers aren’t teaching it to them or sharing their love of it like they did in the 60’s and 70’s. All I’m saying is I don’t care if I’m the last Black coach standing, I’ll be there with my son batting 9th like my dad used to.

Ravi: Baseball does pay more than other professional sports, I agree. That still doesn’t mean that it should be a selling point for playing baseball. The only relevance the odds of success and making money would have is to show that it is a preferable pathway. I’m saying that it isn’t, and that stat is counterproductive. It’s problematic that being the highest paying American professional sport would even be a factor in choosing to play baseball.

And from what you stated earlier, it sounded to me that you were hoping for your kid to become the next Pujols. It’s actually a common refrain with black parents — using sports to make it big. What you wrote preceding the declaration that your kids won’t have a choice doesn’t resemble what you are saying now. Love of the game and family tradition are great reasons. Slightly greater likelihood of millions — problematic.

RJ: I guess I was just operating under the assumption that you knew that I had enough common sense to not rely on sports as a legitimate career objective. And yes money is a troubling selling point for sports but the reality is that money is a selling point for everything. Basketball and football do it both directly and indirectly so all I’m saying is once baseball finds a way to appeal to the younger generation like they were able to in the 90’s, the fact that their players make more money than other athletes can’t do anything but help their objectives.

Additionally is there something wrong with hoping your kid becomes a pro athlete? How is that any different than hoping your kid becomes a doctor or lawyer? No one is saying your son or daughter has to neglect their education to do this and it is entirely possible to dominate both arenas respectively. There are definitely a lot of issues with people who would rather their kid dominate in sports than focus on their education, but if my son has a 3.9 g.p.a. and is a left-handed pitcher throwing 96 mph, why can’t I hope he goes pro? Especially if both he and I are well aware of the difficulty to do so and have taken the time to be sure education remains his primary focus even through college.

Ravi: “So all I’m saying is once baseball finds a way to appeal to the younger generation like they were able to in the 90’s the fact that their players make more money than other athletes can’t do anything but help their objectives.”

That’s what I thought you were saying. I’m saying that’s a problem. I agree that it will likely help their objectives (more kids playing baseball), but it hurts academic objectives. I’m not picking on baseball though. It’s a huge problem with football and basketball.

And yes, there is a problem with hoping your kid becomes a pro athlete. That’s kind of my point. The difference between that and hoping your kid becomes a doctor or lawyer is the tremendous likelihood that it won’t actually happen. Hopes have a way of manifesting into a good amount of time and effort. Given there is a finite amount of time in the day, this necessarily presents a danger of neglecting education.

I agree that it is possible to dominate both areas, but not to the degree one would if more time was spent in one area as opposed to another. Excelling in sports requires a massive time commitment, and engaging in that sort of time commitment necessarily comes at some cost in another area. This idea that we can balance both, combined with the reality that you can’t actually excel at both, save a very minuscule percent, is a huge driver in why we don’t see Black people excelling in academics to any meaningful degree.

RJ: So getting more kids to play little league or high school baseball is going to hurt them academically? You just said we got more brothers running track now, should they not do that too? Also damn near everybody comes to a

Is it problematic for Black youth to invest the necessary time into baseball over their academics in an attempt to become the next Albert Pujols?

time when they realize they aren’t going to be a pro athlete, for most of us this happens in high school. You’re acting like there’s this huge number of 17 year olds so hell bent on making it to the MLB they’re gonna skip out on taking the ACT. Yea we do have a lot of athletes who get to college on athletic scholarships and are inadequately prepared but isn’t that the case now and baseball clearly isn’t one of the main reasons.

But you did say you’re not picking on baseball, but I’m just defending the notion that baseball appealing to youths because they make more money than football and basketball wouldn’t present any problems that don’t already exist. You’re also assuming I would allow my children to let their academics suffer in order for them to do well in sports; I just said that would never be the case. Me hoping my kid goes pro and another parent hoping their kid goes pro aren’t going to be for all the same reasons and we also don’t have to go about it in all the same ways.

Ravi: Not really what I’m saying. It’s not the getting more kids to play that’s the problem. It’s the marketing. It’s this:

” the fact that their players make more money than other athletes…”

I agree with you completely that this fact helps bring people to baseball. There is a reason it does, and that reason is what will hurt them academically.

If they are pursuing track for any reasons connected to money, then it’s just as bad. You have many parents out there banking on their kids getting track scholarships and that’s a problem too. Like I said, I’m not picking on baseball. But the lure of millions is not something that exists in track. That lure is much stronger and much less likely than getting a college scholarship, so it’s more problematic.

If that realization comes in high school, then it’s already too late. I’m not acting like there is a huge number of 17 year olds hell bent on making it to MLB at all. I know that’s not the case. And it has nothing to do with skipping out on ACT test prep. The kind of student I’m talking about wouldn’t need ACT test prep. They would get 30+ when they are still in middle school. Someone with a 3.9 that would even think to take ACT prep isn’t analogous to someone that makes it to MLB. We are talking about two completely different ideas of “excelling” academically.

I’m not assuming anything with your kids. I’m stating a fact — if they spend the time necessary to be on a path to professional sports, there will be a cost in other areas. This isn’t an assumption about you specifically. It’s an observation on the finite nature of time.

RJ: Ok so I’m trying to understand what your overall solutions are as far as athletics are concerned. Should no one aspire to be a pro athlete? Because if that’s the case there would be no pro athletes. Like you said, you have to put the work in to make it and that all starts with your aspiration of wanting to.  So I guess that’s where my confusion lies? It sounds like you’re saying if you’re smart you shouldn’t even think about sports because there’s a good chance that you don’t even have a shot. And since that’s the case nobody should think about sports because it’s not a sure thing for anyone. Is this correct or am I misunderstanding your point?

Ravi: Well, I’m only really talking about Black people, so it would follow that there would be no Black pro athletes. But that is not realistic. Even groups that have a much smaller focus on athletics, a few folks will still pursue it professionally.

My solution would be diminished marketing towards Black kids and a shift in proportions that closer resembles the Asian population. I’d much rather only have 2% NBA players and 50% of the STEM jobs than 90% of the NBA and 2% of the STEM jobs.

I’m not suggesting that anyone stops thinking about sports altogether. I’m specifically talking about a pursuit of professional sports and the necessary time commitment that comes with it. I would argue that a balanced schedule that includes a moderate amount of sports aids in academic development. So yes, you were misunderstanding what I was saying.

And there is a difference between not being a sure thing that it will happen, and being nearly a sure thing that it won’t happen. That is to say, there are no sure things, so that’s not what it’s about. It’s about probability. The probability of making it in professional sports is so low that it is highly problematic that an embarrassingly large number of our kids are pursuing it as a meaningful career goal. The large number of kids pursuing it is driven by the lure of millions of dollars, fame, and status.

RJ: Although your solution may be radical I can dig it.  And I think you may be overestimating the importance of money in why kids pursue careers in athletics. Yes money and fame are cool, but a lot of them do it because they love it. Athletics is probably one of the careers where I would say people actually love their job the most. Money and fame definitely don’t drive most kids to pursue professional athlete dreams, it’s because you’ve finally found something you can do day in and day out without dreading the next time you do it. The Boston Red Sox could call me today and ask if I wanted to play for them right now for the same salary I’m making today and I would do it in a heartbeat. I don’t think I’m wrong in assuming most people would do the same with their favorite sport.

I’m sure we could go back and forth forever, but I think this is a good place to end it.  We haven’t exactly answered the question, but we left with a lot to think about. Thanks for engaging me in this debate.