By Ken Reed

On April 15, 1947, The Brooklyn Dodgers’ Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. It was a huge moment in baseball history and a landmark civil rights event for the United States.

Today, Major League Baseball (MLB) celebrates the momentous occasion every April 15th. All MLB players wear the number 42, Robinson’s number, on the 15th to remember and honor the courageous actions of both Rickey and Robinson.

However, as we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day this year, we’re faced with a sobering reality: Only 7.8% of MLB players (67 total) are African-American. The high was 18.7% in 1981 and between 1972 and 1996, the percentage of African-American players in the big leagues never dropped below 16%, according to the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR).

MLB has long been aware of the trend. It began a Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) program in 1989 to encourage more African-Americans to play the sport. Today, MLB has six urban academies operating around the country and there are 220,000 kids playing baseball in RBI programs across the land. Until the last couple years, when there was 13 African-Americans selected in the first round of baseball’s draft, the RBI program has had little impact at the professional level.

The downward trend can’t be blamed solely on Major League Baseball. There are numerous socio-cultural factors involved in this trend. However, baseball, as a whole, needs to be doing a better job selling the virtues, values and benefits of playing baseball to young African-American children and their parents.

Baseball may no longer be the national pastime but it should remain a game for all Americans.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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