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Jesse Jackson formed his rainbow commission for Fairness in Athletics in December to seek an end to institutionalized racism and sexism in the sports industry. When Jackson made major league baseball the commission's first target, focusing on minority hiring at the management level, film director Spike Lee, former NAACP director Benjamin Hooks and Baltimore Oriole assistant general manager Frank Robinson were among the black leaders who stood with him. But no matter how many black entertainers, civil-rights leaders and former baseball greats respond to Jackson's call, until the voices of those who may be discriminated against are heard, cries for racial equality in baseball administration will ring hollow.
The voice that is missing in this crusade is that of the Hispanic and black players—or brown players, as Jackson calls them. After all, they are the people who aren't equally represented in the front offices, where some of them might one day seek positions.
So why the silence? Maybe a multimillion-dollar contract goes a long way toward disguising oppression. Many players believe that because they receive fat paychecks, they are not discriminated against. If so, they confuse the owners' crumbs, however appetizing they may be, with a slice of the pie. The players' shortsightedness gives them a false sense of security: They can't see beyond the dugout—where this year there are six black or Hispanic managers—to the desks in the front office. But top minority players who have no interest in remaining in baseball after they retire should at least think about teammates who may not be getting big-money player contracts but who might aspire to front-office positions.
Since news of the racial and ethnic slurs made by Cincinnati Red owner Marge Schott became public in November, Jackson has met three times with an owners' group and has presented a 10-point plan for affirmative action. His plan set a timetable for baseball to reach goals in hiring, management and the purchase of goods and services, but, Jackson says, the owners would not meet with him again to discuss enacting it.
On Monday baseball's executive council produced its own seven-point minority initiative, which Jackson found to be unworkable because it did not set forth specific goals or contain a directive for accomplishing even the general aims on a team-by-team basis. As a result Jackson has promised to go ahead with plans to organize a "a campaign of direct action," which may include protests at major league stadiums.
Throughout this process brown players—blacks and Hispanics make up 31% of major league rosters, but hold less than 15% of front-office positions—have remained virtually silent. It's as if they could care less or that they fear reprisals for speaking out. "The players shortchange themselves by being so tolerant," says Jackson. "They are not satisfied with the way things are, but they are afraid and have agreed to go along just to get along."
Although Jackson has held group discussions with the players on the Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals, and has presented his case individually to 20 to 25 other major leaguers, he has not actively sought out marquee players. When SI approached a dozen of the top black and Hispanic players and managers for their comments, most of those who were willing to talk agreed with Jackson's position but were reluctant to champion the cause. Overall, the managers seemed more supportive than the players. In fact, a few players thought the issue was none of Jackson's business.
One black player, an American League All-Star who wished to remain anonymous, said that even if Jackson contacted him, he wouldn't get the player's support. "Is he going to take care of the guys who lose their jobs?" the player asked. "The Rev should stick to religion." New York Yankee outfielder Danny Tartabull said he appreciated what Jackson was trying to do but added, "I don't think an issue like that should be talked about every day. Why sit there and pummel somebody every day with an issue."
It's not as though these players lack the guts to speak out. They don't hold back on matters that affect them personally. The San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds let the world know he was unhappy about contract negotiations with his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Montreal Expo ace Dennis Martinez threw a fit in 1990 when friend and teammate Nelson Santovenia was sent to the minors, arguing that Santovenia wouldn't have been sent down if he hadn't been Hispanic.
"It's not my place to fight it," said Bonds. "That's why we have a Jesse Jackson. I don't agree with discrimination or racism, but I'm not in the front office. I'm on the front line. I'm a black athlete who has been well taken care of."