Major League Baseball has to do more to address a lack of diversity in the game, according to Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins.
Black men represented just 7.7 per cent of players on Opening Day rosters for the 2019 season. And the dearth of Black representation in baseball extends to the minor leagues and front offices as well.
Atkins and MLB’s 29 other general managers hope to play a part in rectifying those problems, as support for anti-Black racism and denouncing of police brutality towards Black people swells in Canada and the United States following George Floyd’s murder. Major League Baseball opened Wednesday night’s 2020 draft broadcast with a “call to action” from commissioner Rob Manfred, who said “baseball can do more as an institution” to combat systemic racism and inequality.
Executives from all 30 teams, working remotely, held up signs that read: “Black Lives Matter. United For Change.” The baseball operations officials were joined by MLB and club owners in announcing donations to several organizations that support and fight for racial justice, including the NAACP Legal Defence and Education Fund, Equal Justice Initiative, Color of Change, Campaign Zero, and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
Atkins’ dollars went to the Equal Justice Initiative as well as Tropicana Community Services, a Toronto-based multi-service organization with programs designed to address issues affecting all youth, newcomers, members of the Caribbean and Black communities and others in need. Atkins and his wife chose Tropicana with the help of Jays Care Foundation, the charitable arm of the Blue Jays organization. Jays Care and Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro both matched Atkins’ donations.
Atkins said the baseball’s general managers felt an immediate and heartfelt responsibility to address the injustices that are faced by the Black community, to do what they can do condemn racism in all of its forms and to acknowledge their own misgivings. The “emotional” and “sensitive” topic is often not talked about, Atkins said, which he considers a significant part of the issue.
“We have to do more,” he said. “That was, I think, what resonated amongst the (general managers) is that what we’re doing is not enough, we need to open our minds more, we need to listen more and we need to push for more change.”
Atkins said they took ownership of a lack of diversity in baseball operations teams. The league has worked on trying to correct that, he said. A diversity fellowship program was launched in 2019, aimed at diversifying front offices.
Atkins credits Jays Care for annual donations to underserved communities as well as creating baseball programming in inner cities and for people living below the poverty line. But, Atkins said, “it has clearly not been enough.”
“What we’re doing today, and weeks behind us and weeks ahead of us, is learning and trying to do everything in our power to listen and come up with a strategy coming out of this that can make a significant impact,” Atkins said.
Atkins feels baseball is the best way for him to potentially impact change. Sports, he said, has the potential to break down barriers more than some other environments. He is encouraged by the conversations taking place in the Jays’ front office and among coaches and players.
“There’s also some leadership that we’re seeing that’s coming from our players and that’s really encouraging to me,” he said.
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The commitment from Atkins and others baseball executives has to be about more than just making a statement, he said. It needs to be about solidarity and a continued commitment to change.
“The solutions are what we don’t have,” he said. “I don’t expect us to have one of those in the coming days but what we’re focused on is how we can help and what we can do better.”