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Justice Is Served


April 15, 2010 12:05 AM

Selig pimps Jackie's legacy like a whore

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I have come up with an appropriate title for April 15. From now on, I'll call it "Let's Prostitute 'Jackie Robinson Day'" from now on, because that's what Bud Selig and his sycophants will do today: pimp Jackie Robinson's memory like a whore.

For if any sports league has squeezed as much out of an iconic figure and his legacy, Major League Baseball would be that league. Its officials have turned their annual remembrance of Robinson into a carnival sideshow, wrapping the man's historic contribution to the game in tawdry celebrations that would make Robinson himself cringe.

Two or three years ago, I read an online article headlined, as I recall, "What Would Jackie Think?" The story was supposed to be a thoughtful retrospective on how far baseball had come in leveling the playing field for blacks.

Instead, when dissected to its core, the article served as an indictment of a sport that has shunted black fans, the black institutions and black athletes aside like a colony of lepers.


League officials point out -- and self-righteously, too -- that the game is more diverse than ever. I can't dispute that contention. The game is more diverse.

"Diversity has been a part of this sport," Selig said a couple of years ago. "Now we need to expand that in every area. We're well on our way to doing that."

Selig's brand of diversity has come to mean Latinos and exploitation. Teams have established sports academies in Latin America where they plow the land   for rare gems.     

Organizations recruit awestruck boys early, polish their baseball skills and then refuse to allow them to enter the draft. The team that found these diamonds in the rough sign them for pennies compared to what a player might fetch in the June draft.

But the exploitation of Latinos frees owners and league executives from the cost of cementing partnerships and supporting initiatives with urban blacks - men and women who live within a bus ride of a multimillion-dollar ballpark that their tax dollars built.

So naked has baseball's abandonment been that its has choked the life out of whatever interest blacks have in the game. Trying to find a deep core of black baseball fans in a big city is like hunting for Bigfoot: It's pointless to search.

So what would Jackie Robinson think today?

He would think what I think -- that all the sacrifices and slights and bigotry he endured during in the 1947 season when he smashed the game's color barrier have been turned into celebratory pomp that doesn't reflect today's peculiar circumstances.   

Robinson would be angry. Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodger great, would be sharply critical of Selig and all the commissioner's men for their callous indifference toward blacks, for favoring high style over little substance. Robinson would walk through a retro stadium and see a game that, in some respects, resembles what crowds looked like in the 1940s.

Ask a black youth in most cities to name three black ballplayers today and you'd be hard-put to get him to name one. Mention the names Larry Doby, Bob Gibson and Curt Flood, and you'd get a blank stare; you'd see the smooth, dark face of a boy who thought you had asked for his pair of Air Max LeBron VII.

I suppose it is up to sociologists and psychologists to define what men like these meant to black youngsters. Sportswriters and the men who lorded over baseball have no aptitude or appetite for such duty, preferring to let the accomplishments of great black ballplayers fade into the deep recesses of sports history.

So now, April 15 means just one thing to a black boy: It's the day his parents fret about getting their W2 forms to Uncle Sam. He won't give a second's thought to baseball's tribute to Robinson. The boy's thoughts will be on Saturday afternoon when the NBA playoffs begin.

The boy doesn't follow baseball; he doesn't play baseball; and he doesn't care about baseball, not the way his grandfathers did. Not in the way black boys in small towns and big cities did during the 1950s and '60s.

He won't stand up for a moment of silence today, because he doesn't know or care about the game being played at the ballpark. Baseball means as much to black boys like him as Easter does to an atheist.

So he won't hear about or watch baseball's made-for-show salute to one of the most iconic figures in American history. He won't allow himself to become one of the pimp's customers as the game again peddles Jackie's image as if it belonged to a $25 whore. 

 

 

 

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