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MLB’s few Black players left should be a warning about the war on DEI

The number of Black American players in Major League Baseball has plummeted to just 6%, offering a warning about what can happen when institutions de-emphasize diversity.


As Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson and his pioneering contributions to the game, I can’t help but think about the fact that the league is reporting a historically low number of Black American players in its ranks: only 6%.

I think this is a teachable moment at a time when diversity efforts across various arenas (no pun intended) have come under attack. Major League Baseball, unfortunately, is a prime example of what it looks like to talk the talk without always walking the walk.

Back in 2021, sports historian and professor Louis Moore wrote about the decline of Black players in MLB — and the league’s indifference to it

Baseball’s failure to get out in front of the problem in the 1970s and early 1980s had real and lasting consequences. The number of Black players in MLB remained relatively stable from 1977 to 1987 — and then the well nearly dried up. Today, the number of African-American players sits at an all-time low of roughly 7 percent. If MLB wants to increase Black American participation in the game, the league will have to make massive investment in youth baseball, bring more Black decision-makers into the fold, and stop repeating the same tired lines that the game isn’t as cool or appealing as basketball and football.

Today’s baseball fans, a demographic group that itself is also shrinking, have far fewer Black stars to get excited about. Yesterday’s icons warned us this day was coming. But the league never righted the ship. And that makes it fair to ask: Even now, is the league truly dedicated to fixing this problem?

It was, and remains, a valid question. Over the past few decades, Major League Baseball has shown what it looks like to outwardly celebrate diversity (with things like Jackie Robinson Day on April 15) while thumbing your nose at it in practice.

In recent years, we’ve seen more than one team abandon its longtime home and look to greener pastures in whiter communities. We’ve seen stubborn inequality in the management ranks. We’ve also heard Black players speak out about the racism they’ve experienced from fans at games — including home games — and about how having more Black players could combat that.

And at a time when diversity programs have come under attack from right-wingers, MLB’s failure serves as a cautionary tale of what we stand to lose.

To be fair, MLB has taken some steps to reverse these trends, but the moral of Moore’s story remains: Institutions where there’s a declining emphasis on diversity are, over time, likely to see their number of Black participants go down as well. And at a time when diversity programs have come under attack from right-wingers, MLB’s failure serves as a cautionary tale of what we stand to lose. 

Take education, for example. States that once had affirmative action policies designed to promote racial diversity on college campuses — such as California and Michigan — saw a decrease in the number of Black students after race-conscious admissions were banned.

It’s a reminder and a warning that, in the absence of motivation, diversity measures almost always fall by the wayside. And whether on the baseball diamond or in the classroom, it’s often Black participants, or potential participants, who suffer most.