I sure as hell ain’t the only Black person who works at The Root, but I’ve definitely had more of my fair share of being the only one in the room throughout the course of my life. So I can only imagine what MLB superstar Mookie Betts goes through every single day while playing baseball—one of the most conservative sports on planet Earth.
During a recent interview with GQ, he discussed the challenges of routinely being the token Black guy in a league full of white dudes during one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.
It’s not exactly a secret that Black interest in Major League Baseball has diminished in recent years, much like how the proportion of Black MLB players has plummeted from around 18 percent in the 1980s to not even 10 percent now. For his part, the reigning World Series champion said he’s trying his best to lure more people that look like us into the sport, but it’s an uphill battle. For one, it’s way more expensive than just spending $20 on a basketball, and there are far more basketball nets around town than baseball fields.
“I’m trying to do my part in getting guys into baseball,” Betts said, who noted that one of his methods to make himself more relatable was to become a Jordan Brand athlete. “It’s boring and it’s not as fun as other sports.”
He also touched on the challenges he faced as civil rights protests erupted last summer after the officer-related death of George Floyd. While the NBA leaped into action and the NFL followed suit soon after, MLB took its sweet ass time—nine days to be exact—to issue an official statement and unsurprisingly excluded the words “Black Lives Matter.” Betts admits the league “did not do a good job” addressing the situation, and it gave Black folks further justification to continue ignoring Major League Baseball.
“I don’t think it was cared for enough,” he said. “I feel like we just kept going as if nothing happened.”
Part of this stems from the fact that unlike the NBA or NFL, only a handful of MLB players are Black. So while Black players in other leagues have a bit more juice when it’s time to hold their employers accountable to address these matters, in baseball, things are a bit more difficult.
“I don’t think the MLB was really worried about that,” Betts said of the possibility that Black baseball players would refuse to play. “Because if all the Black players in the MLB sat out, they wouldn’t miss a beat.”
He also admitted how lonely he felt after Jacob Blake was shot by police officers last August. After the news began to circulate, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play in the opening round of the NBA playoffs—sending a ripple effect throughout the entire sports world. Betts said he had the support of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that didn’t erase the discomfort of being the only Black person in the room.
“It was lonely,” he said. “In the sense that I couldn’t look to my right or my left—just a look! Because you can look at another Black person in that situation, and just look each other in the eyes, and you know immediately how it feels. That part was lonely, that nobody else really understood how it felt.”
The whole profile is a really interesting read. Especially for someone like me who keeps their ear to the street, but never watches a single game of baseball. So definitely check it out if you get the chance.