Soon-to-be former Oklahoma University quarterback/outfielder Kyler Murray, the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner, is weighing opportunities to play professional football and baseball. Instead of accepting the freedom of African-American athletes to choose the sport of their choice, New York Daily News sports columnist Carron J. Phillips sees Murray's declaring of the NFL draft as evidence of racism in Major League Baseball.
Baseball is losing the competition for black athletes to basketball and football in a big way. Just 8.4 percent of major league baseball players last year were black. The Oakland Athletics are expecting Murray at spring training camp next month, but this week he declared himself eligible for the NFL draft. For Phillips, the would-be social engineer, this is not about individual career choices; it's all about race.
The issue of race can't be ignored here, Phillips writes, because Murray was supposed to become the "new black face of baseball."
"For all that MLB has 'tried to do' in the name of diversity," Phillips writes, "the league still hasn’t fully realized that it’s viewed by many in the African-American community as a white sport that has a racist past that consistently overlooks and erases the legacies of legendary black players, and still has issues with its current ones."
Polling demonstrates that football and basketball are the most popular sports among African-Americans, but Phillips digresses to recent racial insults as evidence that baseball is striking out on diversity.
Phillips projects baseball's diversity problem, exacerbated by Murray's interest in the NFL draft, onto two incidents from the past two years. In an American League game in Boston two years ago, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was called the N-word and had peanuts thrown at him.
A Gallup poll in 2017 found that 37 percent of Americans rate football as their favorite sport, compared to 11 percent for basketball and just nine percent for baseball. Soccer has also caught up with baseball. In 2013, the nine most-watched sporting events by black viewers were all football and basketball. The Sports Fan Journal reported that same year that "blacks watch more television than any other ethnic group in the country," but their viewership of recent World Series games was extremely low. African-Americans as a group just aren't all that interested in baseball. And for those with exceptional athletic skills, the slow rise through minor league baseball to the big leagues are easily outweighed by instant fame in the NFL or the NBA.
The cries of racism by Phillips are contradicted by what Jason Clinkscales, managing editor of The Sports Fan Journal, wrote in 2013: "The only way that young black kids – or any group of kids, for that matter – can get into baseball is if they are encouraged to watch the game. That doesn’t come from just attending games in person or even letting them play in Little League. It’s from sitting down in front of a TV with their parents and guardians, their elders passing down the love of the game with the stories from Vin Scully or the slo-mo replays of a C.C. Sabathia fastball."
Despite fan apathy and poor TV viewership, MLB programs like Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities are trying to entice more African-Americans into a pipeline to MLB. That doesn't matter to Phillips, who keeps swinging for the racism fence and missing. He says baseball never had a chance at Kyler Murray "because far too many times the sport, and the league, has ignored people who look just like him." Or attempted to straighten out their hats.