Adam Jones and the real 'white man's game'

Orioles outfielder Adam Jones' remark in an interview with USA Today that baseball "is a white man's sport" is getting a lot of attention, but it's not exactly a new observation. He later explained that he was referring to pure demographics — about 8 percent of Major League baseball players are black, while blacks constitute substantial majorities in both the National Football League and the National Basketball Association. MLB more or less openly admits the issue — it has an initiative, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, with the goal to "promote greater inclusion of minorities into the mainstream of the game."

It's not just a question of numbers. Despite baseball's occasional role in the vanguard of social change (as, for example, with the signing of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers), it remains more hidebound by tradition than other sports. In an article this spring titled "The Unbearable Whiteness of Baseball," New York Times Magazine writer Jay Caspian King cataloged a long tradition of minorities being criticized by the baseball establishment for failing to show proper "respect" for the game.


(Among his examples: A 1994 showdown between Mr. Jones' current manager, Buck Showalter, and Ken Griffey Jr. over the Mariners' phenom's habit of wearing his hat backward and shirt untucked. A generation later, Mr. Showalter backed Mr. Jones up. "I think everybody here would feel that way as far as respecting his right," Mr. Showalter said.)

The more interesting thing Mr. Jones said has to do precisely with whose rights to free speech we respect. In an interview with USA Today discussing San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision not to stand during the playing of the national anthem, Mr. Jones noted a double-standard in whose speech is viewed as legitimate and whose as offensive. "Because Donald Trump is a billionaire, he can say whatever he wants, because he's older and has more money? And when Kaepernick does something, or says something, he's ridiculed. Why is that?"


Of course, Mr. Trump got plenty of ridicule early in his campaign, with many, including his GOP rivals, assuming no one would take him seriously. And plenty of people find things he has said — about women, immigrants, minorities generally — far more offensive than anything Mr. Kaepernick has done. But Mr. Trump built a following and eventually won his party's nomination in large part by capitalizing on the anger of people who believe their voices are being shut out. All his railing against "political correctness" is really a way of giving sanction to his followers to speak out in ways that others find hurtful.

Yet Mr. Trump hasn't embraced Mr. Kaepernick as a fellow exerciser of free speech. Rather, Mr. Trump has said on multiple occasions that he should leave the country. "I think it's a lack of appreciation for our country, and it's a very sad thing," Mr. Trump said this week on Fox & Friends. "I've never seen anything quite like it, actually. You know, you are talking about a major sport, maybe the major sport, and when you see that and it leads to a lot of other things. I think it's a great lack of respect and appreciation for our country and I really said they should try another country, see if they like it better. See how well they'll be doing."

What's the difference between Mr. Trump's speech and Mr. Kaepernick's? Mr. Trump is talking about the concerns of working-class whites, and Mr. Kaepernick and his supporters are talking about blacks.

"It's crazy how when people of color speak up, we're always ridiculed," Mr. Jones said. "But when people that are not of color speak up, it's their right."

Which brings us back to what Mr. Jones was saying about a "white man's game." It's not baseball, it's politics. The percentage of blacks in the major leagues is near an all-time low since integration, but the number of blacks in Congress — also about 8 percent of the total — is at an all-time high. More than 40 percent of baseball players are minorities (thanks largely to Latinos), but the current Congress — the most diverse ever — is 83 percent white.

We don't dispute that Mr. Trump is giving voice to many people whose beliefs aren't represented in current American politics (though in some cases, there's good reason for that). But it's undeniable that the injustices Messrs. Kaepernick and Jones are talking about have been shut out of our political discourse for generations. We don't care if they're millionaire athletes; what they're saying needs to be said.