Recently on the road again and eating in another restaurant, I found myself glancing up at one of the ubiquitous television screens plastered all over the dining area. Have you noticed that televisions are now everywhere? They’re at the hairdressers, the doctor’s office, the muffler shop, the public restroom (interesting marketing maneuver), and the train station among others. You can’t get away from them. They’ve become the national babysitter, or is it pacifier? Well, anyway, I noticed Kornheiser and Wilbon on their show Pardon the Interruption, lamenting and wringing their hands about the lack of African-Americans in baseball. I’d heard this story before. My first reaction to this supposed crisis is to wonder why? Why is it a crisis? The serious look on Wilbon’s face when discussing the issue made me think he was talking about the high rate of unwed mothers in the inner city. Now that’s a crisis. Why is it the concern of anyone how many African-Americans (which African-Americans is up for grabs) are currently playing major league baseball? What does it matter? Is it an affirmative action issue?
Leave it to the left, and I would place much of sports media in that category, to lump people into groups. The average person when viewing the typical ballgame on television would probably see plenty of diversity. Why, there seem to be plenty of whites, plenty of blacks, a few Asians (Japan and Korea represented well), and numerous Hispanics (generic for anyone from Central and South America) all represented on the field. But to Wilbon, the African Cubans, African Venezuelans, African Colombians, African Puerto Ricans, although technically “people of color” (what color no one ever says), don’t qualify as African-Americans. He has a more narrow definition in mind. Apparently if you’re a black American from Nigeria, you fit Wilbon’s wish list. But if you’re a black American from Cuba, you don’t count. African-Americans make up 13.1% of the U.S. population, but only 8.5% make up MLB. What to do? What if they don’t want to play baseball? Should it be mandatory just to make the numbers match? And what about those Hispanics? Apparently they’re overrepresented (16.9% U.S. and 29% baseball). What to do? And the Asians? They too need some affirmative action as they make up only 3% of baseball and 5.1% of the U.S. population. Never fear. The baseball commissioner has put together a task force to address these discrepancies. To what end no one knows.
As I listened to Wilbon’s hand wringing, I thought about affirmative action and how prevalent it is in our national psyche. He recalled the good old days of baseball when he was a boy and the many “African American” heroes that he had growing up. The great Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson were just some of the many represented. The thing I noticed about his concerns though, is that they have a tendency to be one-sided. If Wilbon were truly concerned about diversity in sports and representation of certain groups based on demographics, why doesn’t he talk about the NBA? Whites (whatever that really means) make up 77.9% of the U.S. population, but as of 2011 only 17% of NBA players are white, and only 4% Hispanic and 1% Asian. A travesty! What to do? Apparently nothing. The NBA commissioner hasn’t put together a diversity task force to address these discrepancies. Maybe he feels that the best players should make up the league. A novel concept to be sure.
As Wilbon lamented the good old days of his youth, when there were plenty of baseball players who looked just like him, I thought of what would happen if the situation were reversed. What if a white national sports media figure was heard to say this, “You know, I wish the NBA could be more like it was when I was a boy. My father and I would sit around and watch the Lakers and Celtics play on the black and white television set in our living room. There were some great players back then. There were Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, John Havlicek, and Bob Cousy. And throughout the rest of the league were others such as Pete Maravich, and Bill Bradley, and Dave DeBusschere. What happened to the NBA, when there were plenty of players who looked just like me? Where have all the white players’ gone; long time passing?” That conversation will never happen.