Colin Kaepernick’s preseason anthem protest crept into several NFL regular season openers and has remained a hot topic in the sports world for several weeks, but it has not bled over into Major League Baseball.
It’s all about demographics.
“We already have two strikes against us already,’’ Jones told USA Today Sports reporter Bob Nightengale, “so you might as well not kick yourself out of the game. In football, you can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don’t need us. Baseball is a white man’s sport.’’
Jones is right about the demographics, since fewer than one in 10 major league players is African-American – far less than the majority representation in the NFL and NBA. But I don’t think that Jones is really afraid he’ll get kicked out of the sport for speaking his mind, because he has done that for his entire career.
He has been talking about African-American issues throughout and he has chosen real action over symbolic protest. That’s why he’s been nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award and won several other honors for community and public service. But he’s not critical of Kaepernick for taking a different approach.
“He believes in what he believes in,’’ Jones said, “and as a man of faith, as an American who has rights, who am I to say he’s wrong?”
Kaepernick’s decision to sit or kneel during the national anthem is nothing new. It’s just gotten the benefit of the 24-hour news and sports cycle to make it seem that way. African-American athletes have been fighting for civil rights since there have been high-profile sports to serve as their platform. There’s nothing wrong with that and some of it has affected real, tangible change.
But let's not equate Kaepernick sitting passively during the anthem with Tommy Smith and John Carlos risking their Olympic eligibility in 1968 or Muhammad Ali risking prison (and his heavyweight championship) by very publicly refusing induction into the military.
Kaepernick may have meant well from the beginning, but his protest rang a bit hollow until he backed it up last week with a $1 million pledge to support charities that benefit communities in need.
Jones, meanwhile, has spent much of his career in Baltimore working to increase African-American participation in baseball, which has declined over the past several decades. That’s not the direct result of overt racism peculiar to the sport. It’s largely because football and basketball -- as they have captured a larger and larger share of the American sports market over the past half-century -- have become far more popular with urban youth.
MLB’s RBI program has sought to reverse that trend and Jones has been a regular hands-on participant in inner-city baseball clinics as well as making large donations to renovate several Boys and Girls Clubs in both Baltimore and San Diego.
Clearly, he sympathizes with Kaepernick, who has been demonized by a significant portion of the American public and media for his decision to not stand during the national anthem.
“It’s crazy how when people of color speak up, we’re always ridiculed,’’ Jones said in the USA Today interview. “But when people that are not of color speak up, it’s their right. The First Amendment says we have freedom of expression. We’re supposed to be so free, so free. But any time anybody of color speaks up in the United States, for some odd reason, they always get the raw end of the deal. It sucks.
“At the end of the day, black men have fought for this right. Indians have fought for this right. White people fought for this right. Mexicans have fought for this right. Japanese have fought for this right. The United States was not just made up of one race.”
Well, to be fair, there have been plenty of non-minority protesters who have incurred the wrath of the media and general public. The Vietnam era was awash in flag burnings and anti-military demonstrations conducted by mostly white protesters who were beaten by police and demonized by the public at large.
The whole point of a political protest is to get a reaction from those who disagree or those too disinterested to take action, so it makes no sense for Jones to complain that Kaepernick got the reaction he obviously was seeking.