THE BLOG

Racism in Baseball: Where Does the Problem Lie?

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

Racial issues in team sports have gained momentum recently, fueled by inflammatory comments by major league baseball player Gary Sheffield. In interviews to GQ magazine and HBO's Real Sports, Sheffield made claims that Latino, African American, and White players were all treated differently by baseball organizations. He may be right, but it's not necessarily as simple as race.

In his most recent interview with HBO, Sheffield stated that black players in the Yankees locker room were "called out" in front of the team when being reprimanded by team manager Joe Torre but that white players were called into the office to discuss things privately. The problem is, as outsiders we can't begin to presume that the nature of the offenses are equal and therefore deserve equal treatment. For example, if a player is having performance issues that need to be worked on individually, a one on one with the coaching staff could be the best way to address them. If a different player is having attitude issues and is affecting the team dynamic in a negative way, then being "called out" publicly on his attitude problem might be a better solution. Not just for that player, but for the rest of the team who is being affected. Two separate issues, two separate players, two separate disciplinary actions, and nothing to do with race. Without knowing all of the facts, one can't make the blanket call of "racism".

If there are racial issues that need to be addressed, they appear to be Sheffield 's own. In his interview with GQ, he made the claim that teams had an increasing number of Latino players because Latinos are "easier to control" than African Americans. Most recently, when Sheffield accused Derek Jeter of getting preferential treatment by Torre it was pointed out that Jeter was also of African American descent. Sheffield's eloquent response was that Jeter "ain't all the way black". Judging someone of your own race by his "level of blackness" is absolutely racism, which means it's possible that the same racial tension that Sheffield claims is present in the Yankees locker room was caused by his own racist beliefs.

Although baseball has come along way since Jackie Robinson, it is believable that a certain level of bias still exists in some cases. Those cases should be handled seriously and with complete fairness to all involved. But making inflammatory accusations of racism without providing all of the facts only serves to deepen the lines between the races and threatens to turn the playing field into a racial battleground.