Protest put emphasis where it belongs

WILEY A. HALL

April 06, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and his group, the Rainbow Commission for Fairness in Athletics, parked themselves outside Oriole Park yesterday and marched.

They carried picket signs that said things like: "Fairness Beyond the Field," and "Forty-six years after Jackie Robinson. Twenty-five years after King. One Year after Rodney. Now we have Margie Schott."

They chanted: "You watch us play at all events, put us in management."

The Rev. Al Sharpton arrived from New York with a bus load of followers.

Dancing Harry, a local entertainer who used to perform at Bullet basketball games, wore his gold cape and floppy hat and high-stepped around the perimeter.

Jackson munched from a bag of peanuts and fielded questions from the news media.

Meanwhile, people entering the stadium maintained poker faces and tried not to notice the protesters. Baseball is America's Pastime. Opening Day is almost a public holiday. Jesse Jackson and company were spoiling the fun -- like a drunk at a wedding.

"They may or may not have a worthwhile point to make, I don't know," said Frank Renaud, who drove down from Harrisburg, Pa., to attend the game. "But they are going about this in the wrong way, and this is the wrong place and the wrong time. Pity is, nobody is going to take them seriously whether they have a good cause or not."

Wrong. The evidence suggests that nobody takes blacks seriously until they march.

In 1987, blacks represented less than 1 percent of baseball's front-office personnel, managers and coaches. Overall, minorities made up about 2 percent. Then Al Campanis, vice president of the Los Angeles Dodgers, said on national television that black people lacked "the necessities" to hold management positions.

In the storm of protest that followed, major league baseball felt compelled to make improvements. Campanis lost his job. In short order, there was a black president of the National League and a black umpire in each league. Today, there are six black managers on the field, and overall minority representation in the front office has jumped to 17 percent.

Did these blacks suddenly develop the "necessities" or did baseball suddenly feel compelled to offer opportunities?

Minority protests had begun to quiet down again until it was revealed a few months ago that Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds, habitually made derogatory comments about blacks, Jews, and Asians -- and apparently was comfortable in the belief that her fellow owners shared her beliefs.

And Oriole Scout Fred Uhlmann Sr. chimed in with his own disparaging remarks about Mexicans.

Embarrassed again, the owners fined Schott, promised to seek out and do business with minority companies and vowed to fine clubs that do not improve their minority hiring practices.

Sportswriters -- themselves in a profession dominated by white males -- and fans want blacks to accept the owners' assurances on good faith.

But Jackson and his Rainbow Commission point out that Major League Baseball does not have a history of good faith on which to draw.

Change has come about only in fits and starts, and then only when baseball felt compelled to make it.

"This isn't just about baseball, this is about all of society," said Melvin Terry, of Oakland, Calif. "But baseball is supposed to be America's pastime. It has the high profile."

Terry is attending a conference here of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators. He and several other participants used their lunch break to join the protest yesterday.

"It was something I felt we had to do," said Antoinette Morehead of Los Angeles. "All of us face glass ceilings. We are still struggling for equal opportunities."

It is ironic. There are an estimated 5,000 black professional administrators in town -- many of them more than qualified to work in any front office in Major League Baseball.

Yet, were it not for events such as yesterday's protest, such professionals probably would remain invisible to Major League Baseball and most of society.

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