African-Americans in College Baseball

By Butts, Frank B.; Hatfield, Laura M. et al. | The Sport Journal, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

African-Americans in College Baseball


Butts, Frank B., Hatfield, Laura M., Hatfield, Lance C., The Sport Journal


Abstract:

The under-representation of African-Americans in college baseball is evident. African-American athletes make up only 4.5% of all National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) baseball players. They are a shrinking percentage of Major League Baseball players. A focus group was established to identify specific sociological issues which were perceived to influence the under-representation of African-Americans in collegiate baseball. Additionally, information from the observation of SEC baseball games during the 2006 season was used to quantify the social pattern. Data from the "traditionally black" Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) were also collected during the 2006 season. For the Southeastern Conference (SEC), fan attendance was less than 1% African-American and the player participation rate was 1.91 per team during the 2006 season. Additionally, none of the SEC head or assistant baseball coaches were African-American. The focus group determined that the reasons for the decline in numbers were related to (1) lifestyle factors, (2) competition from other sports and social opportunities, and (3) the absence of African-American role models in baseball. The authors propose that Title IX legislation and the influence of sports media were primary factors in the change.

African-Americans in College Baseball

The under-representation of African-Americans in college baseball is an obvious yet perplexing picture in athletics today. African-American athletes are more than equitably represented among many of the most popular collegiate spectator sports; however, their near absence in college baseball appears to be more than coincidental. Questions arise as to whether the educational system, the social system of athletics, and/or federal legislation have been responsible for the reduction in the number of African-American baseball players in America.

Only 4.5% of all National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) baseball players were African-American during the 2004 season. This includes all divisions, in addition to the historically African-American colleges and universities. On the contrary, 42.0% and 32.3% of NCAA basketball and football players, respectively, were African-American in the 2003-2004 academic year (Bray, 2005).

When specifically examining one of the perennial collegiate conference baseball powers, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), only 4.2% of 2006 roster players were African-American, as noted in Table 1. The twelve universities that make up the SEC represent states with an average African-American population of 20.8%.

Ironically, when examining the historically black Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC), findings surface which again support the difficulty of finding African-Americans in collegiate baseball. African-Americans are the minority on many of the rosters of these teams, as seen in Table 1.

With approximately 12.8% of the United States population reported to be African-American (United States Census Bureau, 2006), it would appear that African-American collegiate baseball players are under-represented. This is the case in both college and professional baseball.

Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox, Major League Baseball's (MLB) only African-American general manager, blamed the small number of collegiate scholarships designated for baseball on the small number of African-American players (Nightengale, 2006). Logan White, the Los Angeles Dodger's amateur scouting director, noted that in his trips to colleges across the United States, he rarely encounters an African-American baseball player. Not only is the absence of the African-American player obvious at the collegiate level, the population has gone from 27% of Major League Baseball (MLB) players in 1975 to 8% today (Nightengale, 2006). Sociologists have recognized this trend and have proposed several theories to explain it.

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