America’s Pastime Does Not Reflect America:
The Lack of Participation in Baseball by African Americans
Christopher Newport University
Dr. Linda Baughman
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my Mother and Father for everything throughout my time in college
“For some reason it seems like African American kids decided that the game of baseball just wasn’t fun or wasn’t cool, or wasn’t something hip to be doing” (Mills, personal communication, June 14, 2010). The topic of this paper is the lack of African American participation in baseball and how that operates to reinforce the structuration theory. My study examines how societal influences cause African Americans to shy away from the game of baseball. The affects this has on the game of baseball is that the number of African American major league baseball players is extremely low and the involvement at the youth level is also. Ogden and Rose suggest, “Research has shown that African American youth have numerous facilitators to playing basketball and numerous constraints to playing baseball” (Ogden & Rose, 2005, p. 235). These facilitators most commonly are the African American community and culture, racial elements, and the media. These societal influences on participation are best explained by Jarvie who said, “People are free to participate in sport at different levels but only within certain limits that are in many ways relatively set by social divisions” (Jarvie, 2006, p. 302). In writing this paper, I analyze three interviews for their recurring themes and elements that serve to reinforce the structuration theory and compare my findings to what the scholars are saying.
This project is significant because of the impact of societal influences on African Americans and their sport choices. Ogden claims, “When you exclude opportunities for families to get involved in sports, kids aren’t automatically going to buy into what’s been inculcated in our culture, and that goes also for baseball” (Ogden, 2001, p. 206). Through the African American community and culture baseball is not taught and is not popular. Therefore every generation is pushed towards other sports by their parents and baseball is slowly forgotten by one race. Turman (2007) says that “examining the social system has found connections between parent involvement and child sport participation” (p. 153). What is created is a bad image for baseball among an entire race and the game loses its diversity that was worked so hard for when the MLB was finally desegregated. This study relates to the field of communication because of its cultural impact and because the structuration theory can be used to analyze many other societal influences on activity choices. There are tremendous impacts on the African American youth by their community and many of them were not visible, such as feeling welcome in a sport, before the in-depth interviews. By studying this topic I will reveal how baseball and culture impact participation choices.
Many scholars have studied societal impacts on African Americans participation choices. Two scholars who studied this, Ogden and Rose (2005), found that “economic factors, social encounters, and mass media compel African American youth toward sports more easily played in the urban core (such as basketball)” (p. 227). This is important because the African American youth are bombarded with so many influences to play a certain sport that they almost don’t have a choice in the matter. They go on to say that culture itself steers African Americans away from sports like baseball that require more time from the participant (p. 227). Even though it is a community issue some scholars believe it may be more of a race issue. In Entine’s (2000) Taboo he states, “It noted sky-high black participation rates in other sports, then quoted a scout as predicting that ‘African Americans would soon disappear from the game’” (p. 21). Scholars such as Karen and Washington (2001) think the problem is racism. They state, “Studies of current opportunities for participation in sports document persisting patterns of institutional racism in sports organizations” (p. 193). This participation in other sports and racism lead to a dropping number in baseball. Ogden poses another theory about what exactly in society is driving African Americans away from baseball. “The Welcome theory proposes that certain groups feel as if they don’t have a sense of belonging in sports venues or in certain sport and leisure activities” (Ogden, 2004, p. 115). There are scholars that believe a reason for the drop in participation is the media. According to Fortunato and Williams (2010) one big reason that baseball is not popular among African Americans is the lack of marketing and advertising to that culture (p. 79). Without the proper media outlet for the black players, their culture does not see themselves represented well in that sport. According to numerous scholars (Ogden 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005; Karen & Washington 2001; Entine 2000; Delaney and Madigan 2009) mostly basketball and sometimes football are the sports that African Americans are influenced to play over baseball. Scholars argue that what is needed is a better African American representation in youth and Major League Baseball. The main topics and themes I explore throughout this paper are all evidenced within communication scholarship. It has been established, from these collected scholars, that the influences and representations of culture, race, and media within the communication field are sets of norms that shape human action in a social structure.
The purpose of my study is to find the reasons for the low number of African Americans in baseball based on the structuration theory. Three in-depth interviews will serve as the basis of my supporting data in supporting my claims about participation in baseball. My research question is: what is the relationship between societal influences and the current participation of African Americans in baseball? To answer this question I conducted three in-depth interviews, one Caucasian and two African Americans, that seek to find sports history and factors that affect participation in baseball. What I found was that basketball and football are the main focus for African American youth and their parents and culture influence them to play those. Baseball does not have near the influence in African American communities due to factors such as race and media coverage/advertising of black players. This paper contains a review of related scholarly literature, a methods section that provides an outline for my data analysis, and my analysis of the in-depth interview transcriptions.
"’People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they're African’, Los Angeles Angels center fielder Torii Hunter says. ‘They're not us. They're impostors’” (Nightengale, 2010). This quote is from a roundtable discussion about Major League Baseball that was published in a USA Today article. This quote from Hunter is referring to the lack of African American players in the MLB. More specifically, he references how dark skinned Hispanic players are sometimes wrongly labeled as black. These players are not black but are pointed to when we ask, where are all the black players? This issue exists not only in the majors, but in baseball participation in general for African Americans. America’s pastime seems to be losing the battle to bring in black players and it shows.
For this project, I will conduct a study on the lack of participation in baseball from African Americans. Focusing on baseball as a young child all the way up to the MLB, I examine what cultural factors and what media factors play into the decisions not to participate in this sport and/or not have interest to be a fan of this sport. I do this study because I agree with Ogden and Rose (2005) when they state, “Economic factors, social encounters, and mass media compel African American youth toward sports more easily played in the urban core (such as basketball)” (p. 227). My research question is: What is the relationship between African American’s participation in baseball and the steroid and post-steroid eras?
For this literature review I examine the following areas: The relationship between African Americans and baseball; baseball in United States culture and society; the media’s portrayal of baseball and steroids. I studied the relationship between race and baseball because scholars have already found many contributing factors to the low percentages of African American diversity in baseball and in Major League Baseball. Because more and more people are noticing this downward trend in participation this subject is becoming more and more critical to the success of a historic sport. By examining African Americans in baseball, I use race as a starting point in examining baseball and its impact in American culture. For my next category it is important to know what role baseball plays in the U.S. today and how baseball can be compared to the U.S. itself. It obviously reaches certain cultures more than others but as we can see with the Ogden and Rose (2005) statement it is the culture itself that steers African Americans “…away from sports requiring more time, space, and facilities (such as baseball)” (p.227). The last section is important because the media’s portrayal of baseball has much to do with people’s opinion of the sport and the media covered the steroid era. This era and just media portrayal in general can shape a whole cultures view of something. Why my study is important is said best by these 3 questions posed by Early (2000). “So what happened to baseball in African American life? What did baseball mean to African Americans, and why does it no longer mean what it did?” (p. 33).
The Relationship of African Americans and Modern Baseball
The percentage of African Americans in the major leagues is in decline and has been for over 10 years. In “The 2009 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball,” Lapchick (2009) finds, “The 2008 season was the first season there was an increase of African American players in MLB over the previous season since 1995” (p. 3). This means that every season from 1995 to 2007 there was a steady decline in the number of African Americans on Major League rosters. According to Ogden (2001) this dilemma may be directly linked back to youth baseball and the involvement of African Americans in baseball as young children (p. 200). “…despite data showing the importance of sports to African American youths and parents, those youths get little exposure to baseball” (Ogden, 2001, p. 200). Basketball also seems to be the main competitor with baseball in African American communities and culture. Black children are more likely to play basketball than any other sport. “Research has shown that African American youth have numerous facilitators to playing basketball and numerous constraints to playing baseball” (Ogden, 2005, p. 235). In Entine’s (2000) Taboo, he discusses black dominance in the other popular sports and the lack of it in baseball. “It noted the sky-high black participation rates in other sports, then quoted a scout as predicting that ‘African Americans would soon disappear from the game’” (p. 21).
This topic is not a new development either. Ogden (2001) also notes in this same article that all the way back in 1992 Ebony magazine reported on the low number of black players in the majors; 143 to be exact. This shows that even eighteen years ago research was being done on the decline of this race in this sport. The study was then done again by the same magazine in 1999 and the number of black players was down to 108 (Ogden, 2001, p. 203). With the topic of race and baseball many scholars are just speculating on why there has been such a decline with the African American race. “Studies of current opportunities for participation in sports document persisting patterns of institutional racism in sports organizations” (Karen and Washington, 2001, p. 193). They tell of how, “…mobility outcomes for minority group communities have been exaggerated” (p. 194). These scholars speculate that racism and overwhelming odds for advancement are two main reasons for the lack of racial diversity in the game of baseball.
Ogden relates to the concept of racism preventing participation but takes it deeper by applying a theory to this. “…the Welcome Theory proposes that certain groups feel as if they don’t have a sense of belonging in sports venues or in certain sport and leisure activities” (Ogden, 2004, p.115). Along with other scholars (Delaney & Madigan, 2009) Ogden list various reasons that may lead to African Americans choosing one sport over another. Some of these reasons are influence of family and friends, available facilities, mass media, and just the culture around them in general. Delaney & Madigan (2009) state, “…young people have become upset by the overt commercialization and obsessive rule-orientation of many sports…” (p.48). Baseball is extremely commercialized and has many rules to learn. Sports such as basketball and football seem to appeal more to African American youth not only because of rules but because of ease of play.
The integration of Major League Baseball and the collapse of the Negro Leagues took away the “blackball” which was something African Americans could call their own in a struggling time in the U.S. (Ogden, 2005, p. 239). Once MLB was integrated with black players and the Negro leagues were non-existent the black players faced a hard time. They still faced segregation and separate facilities within the Majors and also it seems as if the history of “blackball” was lost. “…the integration of Major League Baseball has usually been told as if the Negro Leagues never existed” (Lomax, 2008, p. xviii). Integrating the MLB and erasing the memory of the Negro Leagues is hardly a fair trade. The African American players and fans went from a game that was something they could believe in to another form of the unfairness that black people have always experienced in this country. Entine (2000) is one of the scholars that disagree with the notion of racism. He believes that factors other than racism push African Americans away such as cultural differences. “Americans so reflexively expect black domination that anything less than an NBA or NFL-sized black majority is taken as a sign of renewed discrimination” (Entine, 2000, p. 21). The role of baseball in society and culture today is a huge contributor to scholarly theories about waning participation in baseball.
Baseball in U.S. Culture and Society
Scholars in general seem think the main reason for the lack of participation in baseball is the African American culture and community (Ogden 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005; Early 2000; Rein & Shields 2007). The influence one’s culture and society has on them is difficult to get away from. The factors of status and ability to play the game have almost equal roles in guiding the decision to play ball (Ogden, 2003). “People are free to participate in sport at different levels but only within certain limits that are in many ways relatively set by social divisions” (Jarvie, 2006, p.302). These divisions hold many children back from being able to play baseball and one big reason is cost. Due to the fact that it is such a costly sport “the system of select youth baseball makes it difficult for boys from low-income families to compete” (Ogden, 2003, p. 94). But Ogden questions what Major League Baseball has really done to spread the game to these cultures and communities that do not have the resources to increase interest in the game. “…questions linger about how much progress baseball has made in making the game inclusive of all U.S. cultures” (p. 94).
The evolution of society with its cultures and communities are all related to class in a way and they play a big part in decision making for the younger members of these groups. An African American’s financial status within society may keep them from having the means to play baseball. Karen and Washington (2001) talk about Hoberman’s suggestions on the perception of black athletes and how it is a distortion of what their cultures and communities actually face due to their perceived class. “…suggested that the astronomical social mobility of many black athletes…distort public perceptions of opportunity structure for blacks” (p. 189). He goes on the talk about how this causes whites to think that discrimination is non-existent in sports. Their culture may not embrace the sport, their community may not even play that sport, and society may discourage their participation in a predominately white sport. All these terms can be grouped together under the heading of social divisions. “Social division however is a much wider term than just social class since it has the potential to place an emphasis on many forms of division” (Jarvie, 2006, p.302). These differences in the black culture compared to that of the white culture when it comes to social division can contribute to lack of participation in certain things. “…social differentiation, a general term used to describe the increasing complexity of specialize roles and relationships that are evident as societies grow in size” (Jarvie, 2006, p.302). The relationships African Americans have within their culture influence their decisions and as the culture and society grow in size the influence becomes even greater.
One of the most influential parts of the African American community on the youth, or of any culture on the youth, is the parents. “Examining the social system has found connections between parent previous involvement and child sport participation” (Turman, 2007, p. 153). Therefore if the parents did not participate in a certain sport then the child is most likely not to participate either. The last two decades have seen the biggest decrease in African American involvement in baseball and obviously that will translate over to the children of the people not playing. “Family and parents are influential in determining sport involvement of young children” (p. 153). Once again the former Negro leagues come into play here. African Americans alive during the time these leagues were disbanded were obviously angry that their league was basically taken from them. “The whites profited from black baseball further aggravated those black Americans who viewed their leagues as the sole respite from Caucasian hegemony” (Regalado, 2003, p. 301). This anger can be transferred from generation to generation resulting in a lack of blacks in the game today. It was a stronghold in the community back then and now it is gone. “…loyalty to their black leagues was an important factor in preventing the black community from being ‘torn asunder’ by opportunistic and financially driven whites (Regalado, 2003, p.301). Ogden (2003) also comments on this change in fandom from the Negro leagues to MLB. “And there was a carryover effect after that of blacks going to major league games to follow those players from the Negro Leagues” (p. 89). He goes on to say that once the former Negro leaguers retired the black fans stopped coming to games and even stopped being fans period because they had no one of their culture and community to root for. This ultimately is going to lead to a lack of role models in baseball for African American youth to look up.
Not only are there not many African American players to look up to but even the front offices of MLB is lacking diversity. “In 2009, there were five minority GMs (General Managers), including three African Americans” (Deubert & Wong, 2010, p. 110). This means that the percentage of African American GMs and the percentage of African American players are both right around ten percent and the majority is white males. Derek Jeter is a perfect example of what Angels’ Outfielder Torii Hunter was quoted as saying earlier in this review. At first glance Jeter may seem to be African American but in reality he is a mix of 3 races. “Jeter appears to be of indeterminate race” (Newman, 2009, p. 71). As a very high profile player who many think is African American this can be devastating to young black children that find out he is not. Another example of the lack of role models is Barry Bonds. At first glance seemed to be a great player and was then caught up in steroid allegations and tax evasion. The black professional ball players that are good are lifted onto a pedestal because they are few and far between. And when they fall from greatness it has a tremendously negative result on the youth in their culture. Much of the harmful exposure of the black players can be attributed to the media.
The Media’s Portrayal of Baseball
The media today covers anything and most importantly everything that a star does. “The difference is that today there are many more channels and that the reporters and the media capture a more complete dimensionality of the star” (Rein & Shields, 2007, p. 65). According to Rein and Shields (2007) the fan can now have access to the stars of the sport in a way that they never had before. This access came to the forefront with the mass media and steroids in baseball. According to Haigh (2008) in an analysis of the 2003 Bay Area Laboratories Co-Operative (BALCO) steroid scandal coverage, “Results revealed articles had a negative tone toward the baseball industry, and sources were depicted as knowledgeable but lacking character” (p. 15). He examines how the players had to repair their image for themselves and the fans sake by blaming others, not taking responsibility and just saying they were sorry. Rein and Shields (2007) go into how fans experience the game through media today and through the steroid scandals. They mention the four main players under steroid allegations and one of them was the prominent black star Barry Bonds. “The accused steroid foursome has drawn the ire of sports fans everywhere and created a general distrust of many of the game's players” (p. 65). They also go into how baseball is under more intense watch by the media because it is the pastime of America.
Although there is access to baseball and some to the African American stars that play there are not many advertisements with them. According to Ogden (2005), “African American baseball players…have a meager presence in such advertisements and in that way, mass media may act as a constraint” (p.236). Fortunato and Williams (2010) believe that the one big reason that baseball is not popular in African American culture is because of the lack of marketing. Also the lack of media coverage of the few African American stars that there are. Most of the MLB’s games are not on regular cable and therefore low income houses are not going to be able to watch. “MLB needs to provide more games available on free, over the air television because of low cable penetration into the African American community” (p. 79). He goes on to say that not only does the mass media not portray black players on T.V. but they do not portray black fans on television. In a crowd shot analysis from broadcast baseball games Ogden (2005) shows that “the crowd shots give the impression that few African Americans spend leisure time at baseball parks” (p. 236). Regalado (2003) agrees with Ogden in a sense by saying “television as detrimental to a game that throughout most of its history had maintained a sense of kinship with its aficionados” (p. 305). When talking about the media and how African Americans see the game Ogden (2003) says “African Americans experienced the game through their flawed Americanism…and this is why they are somewhat alienated or distanced from the game today” (p. 94).
Overall all of these scholars had the same general idea on what exactly is keeping African Americans out of baseball and from being fans of the game. Whether it is the community and culture, racial issues, other sports or just bad marketing we can only speculate. Ogden (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005) is the main scholar that studies this specific topic and he has done a similar study to this. In summary of his ideas and what he has taken from others, “…the roles of family and friends, access to facilities, and social messages delivered through mass media and other communication forms should not be underestimated” (Ogden, 2005, p.240).
The method that I chose to use for my senior research project is in depth interviewing. This is the most effective way to collect the data needed for my subject on the lack of and decline of African American participation in baseball. According to Boyce and Neale (2006) in-depth interviews involve “…conducting intensive individual interviews with a small number of respondents to explore their perspectives on a particular idea” (p. 3). They go on to state that interviews are used to provide the bigger picture that goes along with data a researcher has already collected. The method I will use in my in-depth interviews will be the open ended interview. According to Berry (1999), “researchers using this approach prepare a set of open-ended questions” (p. 1). “The goal of the interview is to deeply explore the respondent's point of view, feelings and perspectives. In this sense, in-depth interviews yield information” (Guion, 2009, p. 1). The in-depth interviews will are done in the following way. First clarify the purpose of the interview to the interviewee, then ask the proper questions for the topic, and finally listen and guide the person through the interview. According to Guion (2009) the most important aspect of the interview is to put the subject at ease and establish a good first impression. After the interview is over it is time to analyze the data collected.
The analysis of the interviews will be based mostly on the structuration theory which focuses on an individual’s surrounding, culture, and community in relation to the choices they make in life and their views on different subjects. “Structuration theory has the potential to integrate all of these disparate influences on leisure activity in a rich and revealing way” (Ogden & Rose, 2005, p. 226). When analyzing the data gathered from the interviews it is important to look for repeated subjects and words used by the different interviewees. According to Boyce and Beale (2006) the interviewer should look at the statements that the subject gave with more emphasis more closely than the ones that were just one word answers. (p. 7). Guion (2009) describes the four main steps after the interview as transcribing, analyzing, verifying, and reporting. The analyzing stage is the most important because the patterns found in the interviews can unlock information that can be monumental to the study. When it comes to comparing it to another study I will use Ogden’s study (2005) on the lack of African American participation in baseball. The interview sessions for these individuals will be conducted in a relaxed setting so that the participants will feel comfortable opening up about the subject. It is important to assure the participants of anonymity and confidentiality. Also the questions asked should be “…formulated in language that is familiar and comfortable to participants and that is appropriate for respondents’ educational, social, and ethnic backgrounds” (Webber & Byrd, 2010, p. 1)
For my in-depth interviews I interviewed three people, two black and one white, at my roommate’s parent’s house. I asked each participant a set of questions and then asked them to go into more detail if the answers were short or vague. After each question was asked I had prepared sub-questions to play off the original question in order to get more information. The sessions lasted for approximately twenty minutes and were recorded with a video camera for documentation and analysis. My population for this study is African Americans mainly and the one Caucasian person was there to compare the answers. The sample of people I picked was not chosen because of their background with the sport baseball but for their race. The questions I asked were divided into subjects in order to find certain themes about my study. The themes that I was looking for include community and culture influence, racial influence, media influence, and how baseball compares to basketball and football.
The goals of this study were to answer my research question: what is the relationship between societal influences and the current participation of African Americans in baseball? Other factors could play a part in influencing African Americans to play certain sports but I focused on societal influences. By conducting these interviews I was able determine that a person’s culture and community teach them values and exactly what they should and should not participate in. Specifically the African American culture in general does not promote baseball to their children as they do other sports such as basketball. Therefore there is a steady decline in the number of black children playing baseball which correlates to the extremely low number of African Americans in Major League Baseball today.
In my analysis of the in-depth interviews with my three participants I identified reoccurring themes and elements that serve to reinforce the structuration theory and the idea of social structures determining actions of the individuals within society. According to Ogden and Rose (2005), “Individuals are portrayed as being knowledgeable actors, but they are not necessarily fully aware of all the implications of their actions” (Ogden & Rose, 2005, p. 228). This analysis will answer my research question: what is the relationship between societal influences and the current participation of African Americans in baseball? These reoccurring themes were found in the answers about influence on sports participation by a person’s community and culture, by racial elements, by the media, and in comparison to the basketball and football. By asking questions about sports participation, fond memories, racial impact, media and advertising, and just general interest in baseball I found that African American children are not influenced into participating in baseball by the family or friends. Other sports take precedence to baseball in African American culture and society and aspirations by African American athletes seem to be different from that of Caucasians. Comfort level in baseball by African Americans is low compared to that of basketball and football. Whether it is a community influence, amount of media coverage, or just overall comfort, the idea that African Americans are disappearing from the diamond is reinforced through various avenues.
Community and Culture
The first major finding in the three separate interviews was the element of community and culture influence on participation in sports. From my participants, Tom Lane (Caucasian), Denis Arthur (African American), and Kevin Mills (African American), I found that everyone had played multiple sports and that they were influenced by their parents to play. All three had played organized football and basketball in their lifetime while Lane and Mills were the only ones that had played organized baseball, although Mills did say he only experimented with it. The results of a question asked about their parent’s sports history revealed that all three participants come from an athletic background. When asked if the beginning of their sports participation was influenced by family or friends all of the participants said that their parents influenced them to play. From the fact that neither of the African American participants had a parent play baseball I determined that the parents would influence them to play other sports and leave baseball out. Kevin Mills claimed, “My dad put a basketball in my crib when I was four months old. That was the end of that.” Smith’s father was already influencing his son to play a sport when he was still and infant by putting a basketball in his crib. Denis Arthur claimed that his parents influenced him to play sports by just signing him up. He stated, “I was too young to realize what sports was back then.” These parents within this culture just decided for their child on what sport he would play and baseball was not one of them.
The African American community has basketball in their culture as a distinct norm, but lacks baseball as one, which reinforces the structuration theory by showing that the norms are what control actions (Ogden & Rose, 2005). The communities’ role is to set up a norm that can determine exactly what its members will do and this trickles down from parent to child. When Arthur was asked if baseball was a popular thing about his family and friends he simply replied “Nope” (personal communication, June 14, 2010) without any hesitation. Tom Lane did play baseball however and was influenced mostly from people outside of his family. Lane’s culture is different from the other two participants but was still influenced by it to play baseball. “I was really the first um…person actually in my entire family, to ever play baseball,” he stated about his influence, later saying, “…it was very popular among my friends.” Even though Lane is of a different culture and race than the other two participants he still had an opinion on the low number of African Americans that play baseball currently. Racial influences and cultural influences tended to overlap in this study because both can be applied so this quote can be looked at as evidence for either. Lane stated, “I think African American parents don’t influence the kids to play baseball. I think they would rather them play basketball or football.” For this analysis I considered money or income as a cultural element because the participants mentioned it often. Lane and Arthur both commented on the amount of money it costs to play baseball and how African Americans as a culture tended to have less of it. Arthur on two separate occasions talked about how African Americans had less money on average than Caucasians. He cites this as a reason that there are not more black players in Major League Baseball and as a reason there are not more children playing. All three participants did agree that baseball is a more expensive sport that football and basketball but Arthur said that his interest could have been sparked to participate in baseball if he had known from a younger age how much money professional players make.
Lastly within communities there are coaches and they too can influence the choice of sport a person plays. From the African American participants I got mixed feelings on coaches. Arthur said that “no coach has ever influenced me,” with a tone that was very determined and Mills said that his coaches “built my love for the sport,” in a very humble tone. This tells me that Mills’ coaches got him hooked and baseball steadily faded away and that Arthur was mostly just influenced by his parents and parents alone. Coaches in the MLB also have influence on their players. I described an interview with a major league player to my three participants about the lack of black players in the majors and the reasons some players have for this. Orlando Hudson, a pro player, said that the coaches think that black players have bad attitudes so they don’t sign them. I asked my participants what they thought of this and Mr. Mills’ answer fits right in with the structuration theory and how the African American culture views attitude in sports. He states, “it’s a problem in society that black, the black family has for years been raising their kids to think that their greater than the team.” This is an inside look at the African American culture and a value, that according to Mills, many black families teach their children. Baseball is a very team oriented sports more about playing as a unit and not individual success. This value is a reason that African American children do not see baseball as an attractive option when picking their sports.
Race is always a touchy issue and these interviews were no exception. Any question about race got an unsure answer and any answer involving race was littered with ums. My findings on this topic were that race ultimately does play a part in influencing African Americans into other sports and away from baseball but no one is comfortable saying that is one of the reasons. The fifth question I asked to each participant was about race. Did the race of other people your age playing a certain sport influence your decision to play that sport? The three answers could not have been more different. Lane said that he didn’t try out for basketball in high school because he thought being white hurts his chances. He talks about just sticking with baseball for that reason. Arthur said he grew up in a mostly white neighborhood so it did not influence him. That just points more and more to the fact that race did not influence Arthur but his parents and culture did. I should quote Mills’ whole answer to this question because it is so eye opening. He stated, “I wouldn’t necessarily call it race is the reason that I played basketball but I think that has something to do with the reason I never saw a hockey puck.” He goes on to say that he doesn’t think he played basketball and football because he is black but he doesn’t think that he didn’t play other sports because there weren’t many other African Americans doing that. These answers reinforce the idea that a person’s culture determines their actions but also that the majority race playing a sport influences the other races that play that sport. Well at least when it comes to white and black.
Another question I posed to them was about racism influencing decisions to play certain sports because Ogden and Rose (2005) had mentioned racism as a deterrent to African Americans. Although he may have found this to be the case not one of the participants said that racism never played a part in deciding on what sports to participate in. Throughout the rest of the interview race comes up many times in regards to African Americans not participating in baseball. To summarize Lane’s view on race and baseball here are highlights of his statements. Lane talks about how African Americans just don’t start playing ball at a young age. He goes on to say that there is a dominance by black players in the National Basketball Association and National Football League but does not mention baseball. Also he mentions that the NBA and NFL have more advertising with black athletes than the MLB does. Arthur and Mills both agree with Lane’s opinion about the dominance of the sport and of the advertising by African Americans and the lack of both of these in the MLB. Lane goes on to say that we need to educate all children about baseball and try to spread the interest among all races.
Arthur’s has many informative answers also. As I stated in the previous section he talks about how African Americans on average tend to be poorer than Caucasians. He also says that he does not understand how a Hispanic player could be mistaken for a black player and thinks that is a bad thing for renewing interest in the game. Mills’ answers about race were the most informative ones. He said that he does not think there is a problem with the low number of African Americans in the MLB. He talks about how baseball is not as flashy as football and basketball and how Africans Americans like that style opposed to the calmness of baseball. The following answer was the most helpful in determining that race plays a part in influencing the decision to play. Mills states, “for some reason it seems like African American kids decided that the game of baseball just wasn’t fun, or wasn’t cool, or wasn’t something hip to be doing.” He also talks playing basketball and football because there were and lot of people that “looked” like him but not playing other sport because there weren’t any kids that looked like him. In conclusion for this section there are many racial elements that come out of African American culture and society and although racism doesn’t, many of the other elements do have an influence on African Americans’ participation in baseball.
Media is another societal influence that falls under the structuration theory. Forms of media from advertisements, to player press conferences, to sports networks are all factors that can influence a person’s decision to play a sport. Advertising in sports is obviously going to sway some opinions especially if baseball is not advertised as much as the other big sports. I asked all three participants what sport they see advertised the most. All of them answered football or the NFL with basketball or the NBA as their second choice. They said that baseball is overshadowed by all the advertising the other two leagues do. I also asked what sport they see with the most black athletes in the ads. The unanimous answer was the NBA. The NFL was second and baseball was not mentioned. Once again according to my participants the MLB is not catering to African Americans with their advertising and it is having a negative effect on participation and on fan numbers.
Steroids and baseball have been a topic in the game from the early 90’s up until present day. The media covered that entire time and could shape people’s view of baseball or sway their interest away. The entire scandal was painted in a negative light so I asked all three participants if the scandal made them more or less interested in baseball. Surprisingly, the one white participant, Lane, said that he lost a lot of interest in the game that he had actually liked playing in his life. His reason for his decline in interest was the fact that the scandal tainted the great players of the game and what they had accomplished. Arthur, when asked the same question, replied with an increase in interest. The coverage of that era swayed his view back towards the game. But he did emphasize his opinion that steroids did not have anything to do with the players playing better. Lastly, Mills replied to the same question with kind of a confused answer. He said that when he was watching the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa it really got him into watching baseball as a fan. Mill’s goes on to say that he did not know at the time that this season would be the most infamous season associated with steroids. This season was a media frenzy and could have easily drawn in more fans because hitting home runs is exciting. As I stated before, Mills gave the most in-depth answer by far and really opened my eyes to the African American way of thinking on baseball. The media obviously had a very big imprint on him with baseball and actually was the reason that he became a fan of baseball. He says that he first got “hooked” from the 1998 season and then became a huge Yankees fan in when they won their three championships in a row from 1998 to 2000. As we can see here the media broadcast all of the games, the press conferences, and the advertisements for the Yankees so therefore we can assume the media in his culture within our society influenced his decision to become a fan of the game. Mills goes on to give his opinion of other black people and how they became fans of baseball. He stated, “I think the emergence of the long-ball in the 90’s brought a lot of people around and just from that point on I got my education of the game up easily by watching Sportscenter.” Once again the “long-ball” or homerun in the 90’s was credited to steroids and therefore the media coverage of this sparked many interests in the game and brought in new African American fans. His mention of Sportscenter is also important because in the present day ESPN and its shows are cross-cultural successes that have a huge impact on what viewers watch.
As I mentioned earlier all three participants were asked for their thoughts on two separate interviews of black Major League Baseball players. In these interviews Torii Hunter and Orlando Hudson broadcasted their opinions on the lack of black players in the MLB. The participants all seemed to side with the players even though when these interviews came out in the spring the comments by the players had been called something like outlandish. All of my participants said that the players had every right to be a little angry. This shows that even though the media tried to label these comments as a bad thing from these players my one white and two black participants all said that the players needed to be angry or nothing would get done in the direction of change.
In conclusion of the media section I found that all three participants agreed on almost all the media questions. It seems that the only part of media and baseball that had an effect on popularity of the game with African Americans was the steroid scandal. In a very surprising turnaround actually gained the interest of many African Americans. In the advertising aspect of baseball the other two sports, basketball and football, are advertised more so the media of baseball in this situation does not influence African Americans to play the game. Rather the NBA and NFL advertising overshadow the MLB and therefore just win out by blocking out baseball. The participants all sided with the angry black pro players in their interviews which was not very surprising because any sympathetic human would have. In my analysis I found that media does not directly influence the choice to play baseball but it does have adverse effects on the viewers and therefore can bring in new fans.
Basketball and Football
One last thing that I wanted to mention in my analysis was the pure mention of basketball and football compared to that of baseball throughout the interviews. Basketball and football were mentioned by all three participants as sports they played in their lifetime. Two of the three, Lane and Mills, had parents that played one of the sports. I asked each a question about their fondest sports memory and then directly after asked them about their fondest baseball memory. All three told me about a basketball memory as their fondest and the two African American participants, Arthur and Mills, gave a football one as well. Lane had an answer for the fondest baseball memory about hitting a homerun in high school. His answer was very vague and he stumbled through a lot with ums so it made me think that maybe he was just making up that memory to sound better in the interview. Arthur directly just said he did not have a baseball memory but then changed his tune and vaguely said “catching with one of my friends that played baseball.” This also made me think he just made this up because he was on the spot with the camera and interview. Mills had a baseball memory but it did not involve playing only watching it on T.V. This shows me once again that he was not influenced in his culture to play baseball and the only reason he became a fan was the media coverage of steroids and the Yankees. Going into these interviews I thought that being mostly about baseball would mean the answer would be mostly about baseball. I was wrong in that in all the answers given through the three interviews baseball was mentioned only 23 times where basketball and/or football were mentioned 27 times. If I had counted the two sports individual it would have been a much higher number.
In conclusion I found that basketball and football became the main subject of my interview with the two African American participants and the one white participant mentioned baseball a great deal more than them. I can now say that basketball (NBA) and football (NFL) are most definitely the main sports focus for African Americans and their community and culture. The influences of baseball are just not strong enough compared to these other two sports. As a result of this and many other factors within society, African Americans are pushed away from America’s Pastime and from a game that desperately needs them to survive.
From my research and analysis I found that the participation of African Americans in baseball is a prime example of the structuration theory at work. The societal influences on African American youth make their decisions for them on what sport they play. There are numerous factors that influence the youth and some, such as family involvement, were more evident than others. I found that with all three of my participants, Tom Lane (Caucasian), Denis Arthur (African American), and Kevin Mills (African American), they played the sports that their parents influenced them to play. All of them came from sports oriented families and all three played basketball and football. I asked the participants directly if they were influenced by their family or friends to play their first sports and all three answered family or parents. Mills claimed, “My dad put a basketball in my crib when I was four months old. That was the end of that” (personal communication, June 14, 2010).
I also found that the African American community has basketball as a distinct cultural norm but lacks baseball as one, which reinforces the structuration theory. The communities’ role is to set up a norm that can determine exactly what its members will do and this trickles down from parent to child. Neither one of the black participants had any experience with baseball and I found out from Mills that many African American parents raise their kids to think they are greater than the team. I found that many racial elements, such as feeling more comfortable around your own race, came into play with decision to participate. But I also discovered that racism is not a deterrent to play sports nor has it ever been. With the participants it was obvious that they all saw the NBA and NFL as more media friendly to the black athlete. In a surprising twist the black participants actually said that steroids increased their interest in the game when I surely thought it would decrease interest due to the scandal.
Potential anomalies for this study could be any African American youth that grew up with baseball in their family and felt very welcome in playing baseball. Other anomalies could be experiencing racism in sports and extensive media coverage of black baseball players. My idea fits in with the multiple studies done by Ogden (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005) the best. We both used the structuration theory to explain the drop in African American participation in baseball. When drawing his conclusions he states, “African Americans use basketball routines and associated identities as means of understand their place in the world” (Ogden, 2005, p. 240). Ogden goes on to say that the structures that produce basketball as the African American identity are just the ones that I found in my study. He finds that “the roles of family and friends, access to facilities, and social messages delivered through mass media” are the reasons that African American youth choose basketball over baseball almost every time. Also, in regards to parental influence on sports participation, Early (2000) found “parents relied more heavily on their expertise with the sport to encourage continued sport participation” (p. 164). My findings indicated that the participants parents did not have expertise in the first sport that participant tried as a child. A big part of my findings that paralleled Ogden’s were the effect youth participation in baseball has on the major league level. Ogden (2001) claims, “the number of African American players in Major League Baseball and in college will continue to dwindle as long as youth participation does” (p. 206). I found the same thing in terms of my information received about the African American community and culture from my two black participants. The numbers will only go down if more parents and communities do not try to spark interest in the game.
Within the communications field societal influences on decision making is a central concept to many scholar’s studies. Whether it is with race, gender, or class there is always going to be discussions on what structures within society are the norms that shape our actions. Jarvie (2006) emphasizes social division as one. He claims, “Social division however is a much wider term than just social class since it has to potential to place an emphasis on many forms of division.” He also states that “social differentiation, a general term used to describe the increasing complexity of specialize roles and relationships that are evident as societies grow in size” (Jarvie, 2006, p. 302). The ways certain societies divide and grow determine the actions of its inhabitants and how their lives will pan out.
Another one of those societal influences discussed by scholars is that of the media. Rein and Shields (2007) discuss how people now have access to inside information like never before. They say that when comparing the media of the past and today “the difference is that today there are many more channels and that the reporters and the media capture a more complete dimensionality” (Rein & Shields, 2007, p. 65). This can be detrimental to the person being reported on and the person listening to the report. The media can make us think whatever they want and obviously they can shape the way our youth view certain aspects of life or activities. On a broader level, scholars within the communications field may interpret my data for its social structure implications and racial divide in sports.
Limitations for my study include time (summer class), number of interview participants, and the lack of this study among numerous communications scholars. The limitation of time could not be helped because this is a summer course but if I had more time I may have been able to find more studies similar to my own. If I had more time I could have also interviewed more people and gotten a broader sample or even done a focus group. I would have asked more questions and made the interviews longer. One more limitation I had that I would fix is the focus on only one race. If I could do the study again I would focus on African Americans, Hispanics and Caucasians and the relationship to participation in baseball.
To build upon my research, I could use multiple races in the relationship to baseball participation and I could have analyzed what factors from each culture influence the decision to play or not. Another future research project I could do would be to find out exactly what caused the number of African Americans participating to start dropping. I could research the history of desegregation in baseball and find the roots of it. Also I could study not only the players but minority races within the office jobs in MLB. I might even consider doing a quantitative study where I find the statistical data about minorities and baseball.
This work attempts to answer my research question: what is the relationship between societal influences and the current participation of African Americans in baseball? Early (2000) poses three questions on this topic that need to be answered eventually if baseball is to ever get back to where it was historically with African Americans. His questions are, “So what happened to baseball in African American life? What did baseball mean to African Americans, and why does it no longer mean what it did?” (p.33). Personally, I want to know where it all began going downhill and why nothing was ever done to reverse the trend. Why did the United States as a society let this happen and what does this say about how welcome certain races feel around one another. When African Americans decide that a game isn’t appropriate for their children to play because of cultural differences, something is wrong. Self-segregation is just as bad if not worse than actual segregation because there is a choice involved. We should all be able to play any sport together no matter the social, political, cultural, or racial differences.
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