Baseball was once our country’s most popular sport, from the end of the Civil Rights Movement until the 1990’s, when, along with Michael Jordan’s conquer of the sports world, the infamous “Steroid Era” tarnished the image of the sport. Now it is merely referred to as “America’s Pastime,” a reminder that the game simply doesn’t appeal to audiences like it used to, specifically the young and the black audiences. The statistics even show it, in this case with players in Major League Baseball. Why has this drastic decline happened? Coupled with a different generation, the reason for this reduction in black players has to do with the culture surrounding baseball, and these so called “unwritten rules” of baseball.
Part of it has to do with a generational change. The younger generation has grown up in the “Digital Age,” where anything and everything you could ever need has been right at their finger tips with smartphones and computers. As a result, “the average attention span had fallen to 8 seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000” (Egan). With “technology pushing even more distractions and interruptions on us,” the slow-pace nature of baseball will always lose out to the instant-gratification mindset of society today. Although this an issue that applies across all races and ethnicities, not just African-Americans, it is still a large reason for why baseball’s popularity is on the downhill. Just go to a live baseball game, and you will likely see a good amount of the audience on their phones for the majority of the game:
Along with the lack of awareness of the audience around, it doesn’t help baseball’s popularity among African-Americans and those alike that the culture of the game is seems to be stagnant, and the unwillingness of the sport and it’s fans to encourage change in the game. Any baseball fan knows of the game’s “unwritten rules,” such as not flipping your bat after a home run or not to mention a no-hitter while it’s in progress. If baseball had a political affiliation, it would classify as a member of the G.O.P. Every so once in a while, an incident will occur where a player has challenged these unwritten rules, and it seems that old and new will clash in a debate on whether the sport should undergo a culture change, similar to liberals and conservatives in the United States. This blind nostalgia and anti-progressive attitude of the sport and it’s fans are hindering the ability of baseball to become popular in the 21st century.
Although baseball was the first major sport to truly break the color barrier, there seems to still be notions that the culture surrounding the game is geared towards whites. While this is not the fault of MLB, as they promote the growth of the game in inner-cities, some of this blame falls on the media portrayal of African-Americans in baseball culture. The media often offers “subtle reminders of which leisure venues are the most appropriate for certain social groups. Television broadcasts of games bolster the impression that the vast majority of baseball spectators are white” (Ogden 116). Because of these “underlying socially and culturally prescribed sanctions,” black parents may be not be inclined to have their children play baseball at a young age. What’s really discouraging about this whole phenomenon is that the trend line should be going in the other direction.
In the book Carrying Jackie’s Torch by Steve Jacobson, author discusses the popularity that black baseball players that played after Jackie Robinson have brought to the game, including stars like Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr. I think it says something about the bigger picture of American society that the game is in the same place that it was 50 years ago. But now that it’s known that the reasons for this can be attributed to the drastic change in attention span due to the Digital Age, and the culture surrounding baseball, steps can be taken to win back the black audience and make baseball black again.
Check out my discussion on this issue here.