Revisiting “Not Beyond Jackie Robinson”

Today April 15, 2010 is the 63rd anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson “broke the color barrier” and became the first black player to play in the Major Leagues in the twentieth century. It is also the 6th annual “Jackie Robinson Day” in MLB. Among the tributes that have cropped up on my Twitter feed today are from the National Museum of American History linking to their page on Robinson , the Phillies posting a picture of Shane Victorino with a Robinson game-used bat and my own post of the column I wrote for Flow last summer. That column was essentially my first (and very general) foray into the territory which I have come to conceive of as a (veryveryveryvery far off fantasy of a) book length project exploring the cultural memory and historiography of the game.

The specific element I want to add to that discussion after re-reading the column today is the question of race in the press box. Hank Aaron (among others) talks about getting blacks (and people of color generally) involved in the game at every level from the field to the dugout to management to finance to medicine. Though there are periodic discussions of women in the sports press, I have heard far less discussion of race and people of in the sports press. Is there a perception that the press is well integrated? In Philly we have Sarge Matthews on the television broadcasts, Joe Morgan is national on ESPN’s broadcasts, Chris Singleton and Eduardo Perez are featured on Baseball Tonight, Harold Reynolds is on the MLBNetwork (Hazel Mae is there as well, not sure if they’re the only people of color on that network) and of course many cities have Spanish-language broadcast teams. [Late game intervention: Doug Glanville too]¬† Yet what about print? What about blogs? Among the Phillies bloggers and beat writers I know of and/or follow, all, I think, are white. This is something I’m just starting to pay attention to and it may not hold up under scrutiny but if it does hold up either in Philadelphia or in the wider baseball press (wider sports press would be another discussion altogether) then it is a situation ripe for analysis from a variety of perspectives. How might that impact the information we receive? What does it say about print vs. new media vs. television journalism and their relationships to race? How does it impact the content in each of those forums? If there are people of color in these places is their reporting any different? Is it more race-conscious? How does race consciousness differ in various media? And a question I’ve long been interested in exploring, what about the black press both historically and contemporarily? How does that reporting compare and how has it compared historically, particularly on race-based issues?

My discipline and my work are based on the idea that media matters, that race matters, that representation matters. Thus, agreeing wholeheartedly with Hank Aaron that baseball cannot and should not congratulate itself for producing black superstars, and also agreeing that if baseball is to promote itself as a microcosm of America, American history and American progress than it should be promoting racial justice in every facet of its micro-society, I also think it could be equally important and equally productive to examine and interrogate what amounts to the extratextual discoures of the game. The discourses produced in concert with the though not within the game, not by the teams or the league. This also points to the complex relationships between the sport, the games and the league as independent, real-life experiences and as experiences mediated by television, internet, newspaper, etc. but further, that that mediation is not just through the televisual, internet, newspaper apparatus but especially in the case of internet and newspaper through individuals. How do these individuals impact the mediation of the game and construct our understanding of it? How do the systems in which those individuals are embedded impact that understanding? How does the racial identities and raical biases of both those systems (perhaps easier to pinpoint) and those individuals (perhaps more difficult to pinpoint) impact that understanding?

I would also note that part of the impetus for these meditations is the shifting nature of sports coverage. Bloggers are increasingly legitimated by and incorporated into the traditional press (see the 700 Level and Comcast, PhilliesNation and 97.3 FM) and beat reporters are increasingly using social media (Todd Zolecki of mlb.com and Northwestern (my soon to be home) grad Ryan Lawrence of the Delco Times are two that I follow). If systems are changing, is coverage changing? We can ask this question certainly in relationship to issues of fandom, but also I think in relation to other questions of how those systems are gendered and raced and how coverage approaches and represents issues of gender, race, sexuality, etc.

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