NEW YORK – Jackie Robinson’s daughter thinks black baseball players are more reluctant to speak publicly about racial issues than their NFL and NBA colleagues because they constitute a lower percentage of rosters.
She spoke at Citi Field on Sunday to mark Jackie Robinson Day, the 71st anniversary of her father breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
While more than 200 NFL players protested racial inequality last season by kneeling or sitting during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell was the only baseball player to take a knee.
“I don’t think they have much choice,” Sharon Robinson said. “They are in the minority and where in football and basketball you have a group and therefore you can take a group action. So players if they speak out individually, they could be the only African-American player on their team and it could be a difficult spot for them to be in.”
The percentage of black players from the United States and Canada on opening-day active rosters rose to 8.4 percent, up from 7.7 last year and its highest level since at least 2012.
The percentage peaked at 19 in 1986, MLB said last week, citing Mark Armour of the Society of American Baseball Research.
“It’s definitely a small representation at this level,” Pittsburgh All-Star second baseman Josh Harrison said. “For younger guys coming up, if guys with 10 years or so in this league haven’t really done much, you lean on those guys for advice. If you don’t have anybody telling you one way or the other, you’ll keep your mouth shut. You don’t want to ruffle any feathers. If you don’t have anybody to help you in that regard, you’ll see a lot of guys be quiet.”
“Guys feel it’s a lose-lose situation for them,” Harrison said. “It sucks because you want to have a voice, but some people feel they can’t.”
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 throughout the major leagues in 1997, made Jackie Robinson Day an annual event in 2004 and five years later started asking all players to wear No. 42 each April 15.
An educational consultant to Major League Baseball, Sharon Robinson attended the first-pitch ceremony before the Mets-Milwaukee game with her mom, 95-year-old Rachel Robinson, and brother David. On a chilly afternoon, the game time temperature was 42.
Sharon Robinson said action among African-American players is more an individual undertaking.
“They do it around their involvement in community themselves, and talk about why that’s important,” she said.
“Part of the protest with the NFL or the NBA is how do we funnel some of these proceeds from the games, where we’re helping to bring these proceeds, and funnel them into the African-American community? So some of the baseball players do that through their own charities or their own work within communities that they’re playing (in).”
Edward Robinson, a son of Jackie’s brother Mack, attended the Los Angeles Dodgers’ game against Arizona and wouldn’t address Sharon Robinson’s comments.
“However, I will tell you that Jackie stood for strength and education. I’ve seen some progress,” he said. “It comes and goes. What we need to do is maintain the high levels of progress and continue to show unity.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.