Not long ago, Murray Chass published his thoughts on minorities in baseball with a splash of recent statistics, claiming the numbers would “disappoint, if not disgust” the late Jackie Robinson. The baseball columnist pointed out:
• Since the Philadelphia Phillies named Ruben Amaro Jr. general manager Nov. 3, 2008, teams have hired 14 general managers. All have been white.
• Of the last 23 managers hired, dating to May 2010, three have been minorities
• Heading into the 2013 season, MLB has only one minority general manager (Amaro) and four minority managers
The moment Chass starting thinking in these terms, discrimination reared its ugly head. As for his algorithm on equality in baseball – nonsense. Is the game better off if we have 15 white and 15 black major league managers or general managers? Let’s not offend the Hispanic community by ignoring them. Maybe we need to slice the job opportunities into 10/10/10. What about women? Don’t they deserve equal opportunity in the sports industry?
You see where this is going right?
At the risk of offending every man, woman and child on earth, may I offer this bold, but novel, idea: Hire the most qualified candidate for the job. The fact that we — regardless of race, creed, culture, color or gender — are still placing labels on people is indicative of a larger problem: racism.
Racism starts, not on the field or in a blog post, but in the human mind. If there are inequalities they should be addressed, but should MLB (or any other organization) be required to meet a race/gender quota? Isn’t policy founded on this principle the very definition of racism at it root?
I grew up in a small railroad town in upstate New York. My high school graduating class could fit all its members on the front of a t-shirt. Translation: it was small, still is. This means nothing to you. But, for me, it revealed something about my personal experience with race. My entire graduating class was white. My entire neighborhood was white. In my recollection, not a single person that lived and grew up in Mechanicville, New York when I was young was anything other than white.
I was ignorant about discrimination – not by choice, but by circumstance. Until about five years ago, discrimination was a radio talk show subject. It was the central theme of a movie or a television program. My life had never truly intersected with the issue. Then, one summer, I found myself devouring books about Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil, John Feinstein’s The Punch and Glory Road, the story of Don Haskins and the 1966 Texas Tech basketball team.
The stories led me on a personal journey to discover my personal definition of discrimination. It became clear to me that if I wanted to really know about the subject, well, I better find a subject matter expert. Living in Charleston, South Carolina — home of the well-preserved Slave Market in historic downtown — I was confident I could find athletes who grew up, even made local history, for breaking the “color barrier,” in sports. I did better than that, I found two: Remus Harper and Norman Seabrooks, the Jackie Robinson’s of college athletics in Charleston.
I needed to meet, hear, see and listen to their stories, their experiences, if I had any chance of understanding the painful truth. This exploration led me to write two stories about racism in sports: Citadel Grad Breaks Silence and Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stones. I encourage you to read their stories. What I learned from these two men is discrimination is not a policy; it’s “a learned behavior,” Harper told me. You can’t create guidelines to stifle discrimination. It is an act that starts in the mind.
Seabrooks, the first African-American to play athletics at The Citadel, taught me a lesson in grace and hope. It took him two decades before he could talk about his experience. When he finally did, Seabrooks said he “noticed something different … progress. You are seeing a generation of kids who are growing up whom, unlike my generation, were exposed to African Americans and others in high school and grade school. I realized, these kids grew up in a world so different from my grade school years that, it’s a new place. To paraphrase Dr. King, people are now being judged on their character, not their skin color.”
The more I listened to Harper and Seabrooks, the more I began to realize Thomas Gray was right, my ignorance was bliss. There is nothing more powerful than to look in the eyes of discrimination and see the pain; or, listen to the voice and hear the pain. Now, when someone like Chass uses numbers to describe discrimination, I can close my eyes and see a face. I know what discrimination, even racism, sounds like.
Statistics tell a story, but not the story. Sure, discrimination lives, but there has been progress and there is hope. Is there equal opportunity? The numbers tell us one thing, but history suggests another. We’ve come a long way since Haskins, Robinson, Harper and Seabrooks. Would Robinson be satisfied? I doubt it. Robinson was a competitor; he was never satisfied. Would he quit? Not a chance. As William Seabrooks told his son Norm, “You’re going to have a lot of tough times in your life, but quitting becomes comfortable when you do it the first time. Once you start quitting it never stops.”
We should never quit the pursuit to right the wrong. But as a whole we must understand, discrimination is not a set of numbers, it’s an act that leaves a deep scar on people’s lives.