We stand with Black Americans protesting police brutality, and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the horrifically long list of Black men, women, and children who have been killed by police officers and racist vigilantes.
We stand with Black ballplayers in MLB, Minor League Baseball, college baseball and softball, and recreational baseball and softball who are told in myriad ways to “play the game the right way” — a pervasive spoken and unspoken code to exclude them from the fruits of their hard work, dedication, and joy on the field. A message that is so loudly heard on fields across our nation where one can visibly see the children, who are missing from our baseball and softball diamonds.
At Friends of Baseball, our mission is to enhance children’s lives through baseball’s power to teach. And there is no greater lesson needed in America right now than the one that Black Americans have been trying to tell us in the face of denial, contempt, and brutality at the hands of community members and government institutions.
We are committed to continuing and deepening our ongoing commitment to using a racial equity lens in our planning, decision-making, and how we operate. Unfortunately, we can’t in one statement, say all of the action we need to take that we have too many times hit the snooze button on — a powerful metaphor we recently saw on the sign of a young black activist.
So, in the spirit of not hitting the snooze button, here is what we are doing right now:
To say that we believe baseball is for everyone is not a platitude, it is Friends of Baseball’s mandate. Yet we say that with the knowledge that we have not always demonstrated clearly or spoken out effectively on our commitment to this mandate, as it specifically applies to the Black families we have served from the beginning.
The nonprofit industry exists entirely due to the existence of inequity. Friends of Baseball exists because of racial and economic inequity that we have allowed to subsist. As an organization funded by community support, we believe we must repay the debt our community owes to families whose communities have been historically underinvested in for decades in Portland and in Oregon. This means that when we open new after school and summer programs that we make sure these programs are running at school communities serving youth whose families have disproportionately experienced the devastating impacts of gentrification, multigenerational poverty, housing instability, poor air quality, lack of access to healthcare, and over policing. Just like with education and other enrichment activities, there is a direct line that connects the experiences of racism (e.g. exclusion, barriers to access, prejudice, bias) in baseball and softball to the lifelong and disparate impacts, we see for Black Americans across all determinants of health, wellbeing, and financial opportunity.
8%. Just 8% of all Major League Baseball players are Black. After steadily increasing after Jackie Robinson faced down racism and segregation in baseball to break the color barrier in 1947, the percentage of Black players in Major League Baseball reached a plateau in the 1970s of around 18%.
If you are someone who supports Friends of Baseball’s work in the community, we are so grateful. When you give us that praise, know that you are lifting up a deep bench of Black community leaders, moms, dads, high school leaders, youth, and businesses who have trusted us not only with their time and resources, but also with the gift of helping us understand where we have fallen short, what work we have to do, and when we need to get out of the way.
We won’t be satisfied until we stop hearing the phrase, “Baseball is a white sport” explicitly, implicitly, or because of how it feels for a Black youth or youth of color to participate in it. Hold us to that.