Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Baseball, Title Ix and Jackie Robinson: It's All About Discrimination

Baseball, Title Ix and Jackie Robinson: It's All About Discrimination

Author: Mo Johnson

The baseball world recently celebrated "Jackie Robinson Day." On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball when he stepped onto Ebbets Field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Many commentators have lamented the fact that 60 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, today, only 8.4% of Major League Baseball (MLB) players are black. In fact, MLB has been going backwards. The current percentage of black players is the lowest in more than 20 years. Just over a decade ago, in 1995, 19% of MLB players were black.

No one disputes that the numbers of black professional baseball players is declining, the controversy is over why.

One article I read recently attributed the decline to baseball's legacy of segregation and racism. The writer argued that because of its history, baseball fails to "capture the imagination" of today's young black athletes.

Others have argued that inner-city black athletes face various economic challenges that limit their access to baseball fields, equipment, etc.

All of these arguments have some merit to them. But, ultimately, they fall short because other sports, like football and basketball, share baseball's legacy of segregation and racism. Yet, black participation in those other sports has continued to grow.

Last week, a co-worker sent me an article about Title IX by Hubert Mizell of It hit me like a thunderbolt that Title IX is the most obvious reason there are so few blacks in pro baseball.

The way Title IX has been interpreted and implemented, it effectively restricts the number of baseball scholarships colleges and universities offer. In fact, most schools, even major schools like the University of Florida, do not offer any "full-ride" college baseball scholarships at all.

I was shocked when I found that out.

Obviously, without a scholarship, many, many young black athletes cannot afford to go to college and play college baseball or, later, professional baseball. Naturally, young black athletes will gravitate towards football and basketball; sports that offer more scholarships. Over the past generation, this shift has become pronounced.

Title IX was enacted by the Congress in 1972. The law, itself, is not controversial at all. It simply states that "No person in the United States, shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

So, Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. It applies to discrimination in athletics. So far, so good. The problem comes in the interpretation of the law.

In 1979, The U.S. Department of Heath, Education, and Welfare (this was before we had a separate "Department of Education") issued a policy interpreting Title IX. The policy provided that, in order to comply with Title IX, a college or university must pass one of three tests. The college or university must show that it:

1. Provides athletic opportunities substantially proportionate to student enrollment; or,
2. Demonstrates a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented gender; or,
3. Provides full and effective accommodation of the interest and ability of the underrepresented gender.

Many schools try to comply with Title IX by passing the third test. The problem is that this test is very subjective. How do you prove you are providing "full and effective accommodation of interest and ability….?" You can take surveys to get some gauge of interest. But, in the end, if a school relies on the third test, it will be vulnerable to a law suit by someone who thinks it has not complied.

Some of the larger, financially strong, schools comply with Title IX by meeting the second test. They "demonstrate a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented gender" by adding a women's sports team. Every time a school does that, it is "good to go" for about five years. But, adding new sports is a money-losing proposition and smaller, less affluent, schools can't afford to do that. At least, not forever.

So, ultimately, all schools will want, or need, to comply with Title IX by meeting the first test. And, it is this first test that has really caused the problems.

If a school has a Division I football team, it can award up to 85 football scholarships (per NCAA rules). The school can also award up to 13 scholarships for it's men's basketball team. Of course, to compete in these sports, at the Division I level, the school will have to award these 98 men's athletics scholarships.

Women now make up a whopping 58% of college enrollment. So, to pass the first test, and award scholarships "substantially proportionate" to student enrollment, the school has to award about 110 scholarships to women just to equal the scholarships provided for men's football and basketball.

And, when you add in other men's sports – it becomes impossible to meet the "substantially proportionate" test without severely cutting scholarships in other men's sports or dropping some sports altogether.

So, that's exactly what schools do. When you look at sports like Tennis, Golf, Track and Field/Cross Country, Swimming/Diving – there are more scholarships awarded to women than men in each of these sports. Even in basketball – men's college basketball teams get 13 scholarships; women's teams get 15.

Wrestling is one of the biggest sports at most high schools. There is a large base of college wrestling fans. But, thanks to Title IX, there are few college wrestling scholarships.

James Madison University is the latest school to announce it will be dropping 10 sports; 7 men's teams; 3 women's teams in order to meet the "substantially proportionate" test of Title IX.

You might say: "well, they should just get rid of football." The problem with that idea is that football is the only college sport that makes money. Men's basketball about breaks even (if the school is lucky). No other college sport pays for itself.

This means the college will likely lose money on every other sports team it adds, including every women's sports team. Football is the bill-payer for many of these sports at many schools. So, getting rid of football is not the answer.

So, what does all this have to do with Jackie Robinson and the lack of black professional baseball players today?

Here's what.

Because of the way Title IX has been interpreted and implemented, college baseball programs are only allowed 11.7 scholarships. Since about 30 players are on a college baseball team, normally, no one gets a full scholarship.

So, baseball is becoming, increasingly, a sport for the relatively affluent. The reason is simple. You have to be able to afford to pay for college to play college baseball.

By contrast, in football and basketball, almost everyone on the team has a full scholarship.

For a young, black athlete, football and basketball offer a much more likely scholarship opportunity. It's not surprising, then, that black athletes have gravitated toward football and basketball and away from baseball. It's common sense.

It's ironic that, Title IX, a law intended to limit sex discrimination in athletics has morphed into, perhaps, the most significant cause of sex, race and class discrimination in college athletics today.

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About the Author

Mo Johnson is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and a long-time SEC sports fan. He is publisher of SEC Sports Fan. If interested in Southeastern Conference Baseball, check out SEC Baseball.



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