O’Neill Observes: Bigger than baseball

MLB players wear Jackie Robinson’s number, 42. Photo courtesy of parade.com.

By Jeremy O’Neill
Executive Staff

Today is Friday, August 28th, 2020, and Major League Baseball is celebrating Jackie Robinson Day. This observation normally takes place on April 15th, but due to baseball’s pandemic shortened season, it has been shifted to today. Everyone in a uniform today will wear Robinson’s number 42, with no name on their backs. This follows a trend of sitting out games this week that was started by the NBA and continued by MLB.

This annual show of unity and recognition for Robinson, the man who broke baseball’s color barrier and paved the way for thousands of Black athletes, is always powerful, albeit slightly confusing for amateur baseball scorekeepers like myself. But this year, it feels especially prominent. This week we saw a police officer fire seven shots at Jacob Blake in full view of three of his children. Blake was added to the long list of innocent Black people seriously injured by white law enforcement in the U.S. Only hours later, we saw former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley proclaim “America is not a racist country” at the Republican National Convention. While some argue that some of these individuals may have been committing crimes, or had criminal records, thus somehow justifying their injury at the hands of police, federal law states that individuals are innocent until proven guilty, so all of the aforementioned individuals were innocent at the time of their arrest or interaction with police.

This past week, a number of baseball teams have chosen to sit out their games, joining with the NBA and other professional sports leagues and individual teams around the world in canceling competitions to raise awareness for racial injustice. This was, like most statements in contemporary America, met with mixed response. Many praised the players who committed to using their celebrity status for positive change. But others, unfortunately, have encouraged the players to focus on sports, and not to use their platform for “political propaganda.” To that, I have a few words.  

You cannot expect Black athletes to sacrifice their bodies for your entertainment on the field when their bodies are being sacrificed in the streets, and you cannot value the physical wellbeing of Black athletes if you don’t care about the physical wellbeing of Jacob Blake. 

You might be upset about players taking a knee. Or sitting out. Or using their platform to speak up. But there is a way to make players not take a knee if it bothers you. Do something or say something about Derek Chauvin taking a knee on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes. If you don’t like athletes protesting, help their cause. They have a voice, and are using it. Others, who need someone to speak up for them, don’t have that luxury. 

Sewanee has a number of Black students who are cheered for on the field but not necessarily cheered for off the field. BIPOC students are more often given punishments for drug and alcohol violations, and face institutional and casual racism on a day to day basis on this campus. So, before cheering for a Black person on the court, we need to cheer for all students of color off the court, athlete or not.