Saturday, April 19, 2008

Quit pandering and just play ball!

Baseball, last week, celebrated a day which political correctness has turned into a practically meaningless event. And all this in the midst of presidential election which was supposed to transcend race.

April 15 marked the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game when he broke baseball's color barrier. In 1997, at the 50th anniversary of the historic event, Commissioner Bud Selig, in an act of racial and political pandering, forever retired Robinson's #42 with a grandfather clause. This year Major League Baseball decreed that any player could have the option of wearing #42 if they wish. That may be a fine tribute to a gentleman of the game but it comes with certain racial and political overtones. For example, what if a player chooses not to wear #42? Does that mean that a certain player is racist or wishes to spit on the grave of Jackie Robinson because he does not sanctimoniously don his number for a single day?

Now, Jackie Robinson was certainly a talented baseball player. There is no denying that. But every year about this time baseball fans are hit with a barrage of labels for Robinson such as "pioneer" and "trailblazer." To what point are baseball fans hit with this? It creates the impression that Robinson fought his way through all by himself to make it into something in American life which is a purely entertaining and vain activity: Baseball.

Let us not forget that it took Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers to first pick Robinson as the player that should cross the color line. This fact is not meant to diminish Robinon's achievements as a ballplayer but to remind people that there are more actors in this play. This uncomfortable fact also reminds us of the not-so-distant past when Hillary Clinton reminded many of us that although Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, it took President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act into law. Yet, there are endless numbers of MLK bridges and highways, yet almost none for LBJ outside of Texas. So, I suppose there is a great deal of irony in the most wasteful spender before George W. Bush getting nothing named for him, but I digress.

Baseball fans are also overwhelmed with stories about the disappearance of the African-American from the game of baseball. To which I ask, what about the disappearance of the white athlete in basketball and football? Nobody complains about the paucity of white athletes in these sports which are increasingly gaining an image of thuggery. The last time I checked, these institutions could employ whoever they wanted at the lowest possible price. Professional sports, after all, are businesses.

Anyway, if you have read this blog more than once or twice, you will also realize that I consider diversity to mean something more than simply looking different. This wonderful country is about achievement and discipline, two things for which Jackie Robinson can be clearly associated. And just looking at Robinson as simply the first black player horribly cheapens his accomplishments and only perpetuates racial issues which do not pertain to games. I move that rather than celebrate "diversity," we celebrate diligence and self-reliance, two traits which are supposed to be embodied by all Americans, not just professional athletes.

Play ball.

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