Has Baseball Turned Its Back on Blacks? MLB Efforts in the Inner Cities Extend to All Aspects of Community'

Article excerpt

Major League Baseball is the sport of Jackie Robinson. Because of his valor and Branch Rickey's dating example, throughout the 1950s and '60s, the best African-American athletes were playing baseball. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, and we take the decline of African-American participation seriously.

As we noticed this downward trend, we faced a challenge. Do we accept that other sports are simply cheaper to play? That baseball has become so predominant in Latin America that we don't need to focus on the game domestically? That the game and its players and fans have simply changed? Major League Baseball is not content to concede that African-American players and fans are lost to us. We opt instead to carry on the proud legacy of Larry Doby, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, and continue to cultivate our audience in traditionally African-American communities.

Major League Baseball was at the forefront of integration in this country when Jackie crossed the baselines more than seven years before public schools were desegregated under Brown v. Board of Education. Our programs today respect the game's traditions as well as our social obligation.

Major League Baseball's efforts in the inner cities extend to all aspects of community and individual development--whether it is the more than $10 million in grants awarded by the Baseball Tomorrow Fund to programs, field improvements and equipment purchases for youth around the world, the innovative Breaking Barriers program that has educated approximately 14 million students throughout the United States and Canada, using the nine core values espoused by Jackie Robinson, or the character-development programs available through MLB's partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of America.

Since 1991, Major League Baseball has operated the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which is dedicated to bringing baseball to youth in underprivileged communities. Currently, RBI serves more than 120,000 children annually and leagues have been started in more than 200 cities around the globe. Nearly 150 RBI alumni have been drafted in the annual first-year player draft, with some advancing as far as the Major Leagues, including All-Stars Dontrelle Willis, Jimmy Rollins and Carl Crawford, and teen phenom Justin Upton, who was selected first overall in the 2005 draft.

In June, 2004, MLB broke ground on its first Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy on the campus of Compton Community College in Compton, Calif. …