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Road less traveled

Sports | Sixty years after Jackie Robinson's breakthrough, most black athletes shun baseball

Issue: "'Darkest moment'," April 28, 2007

Fewer and fewer African-Americans are using the door Jackie Robinson burst through in 1947 when he became the first black major league baseball player. Today, only 8.4 percent of major leaguers are black, according to the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. In 1995, black major leaguers made up 19 percent of the big league field. In the mid-1970s, the portion of African-American major leaguers approached 30 percent.

There's a poignant question 60 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers and Robinson began the integration of professional sports in 1947: Had Robinson been born in 1989 rather than 1919, would he be preparing for a career in major league baseball at all? With the African-American community's interest in baseball seemingly at an all-time low, we simply cannot know the answer.

Few know of Robinson's basketball and football exploits at UCLA. Robinson, a guard on the basketball team, led the Pacific Coast Conference (a precursor to the Pac-10) in scoring in 1940 and 1941. As a punt returner for the Bruins, he set an NCAA record. As a baseball player? Robinson managed just an .097 batting average while at UCLA. Most would expect a black player with that college resumé to enter the NBA or NFL today.

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So what's to blame for the lackluster appeal of baseball to African-Americans? Baseball observers have fingered everything from latent racism to the shabby state of most inner-city diamonds to the NBA capturing the young black male's imagination. Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter blamed parents and children who have lost touch with the game's history. "Nowadays, if you talk about Jackie Robinson, or Hank Aaron, a lot of black kids don't even know who he is," said Hunter, who is black. "That's pretty sad."

With Robinson's anniversary this month, his widow, Rachel, lamented how her husband would react to baseball's waning popularity in the African-American community. "Obviously, he would not be satisfied with where we are now," she said. "He would be disappointed, because he felt we were on the way toward some lasting change."

Around the Horn

BOXING: Someday super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe will find an opponent. The undefeated Calzaghe reportedly offered middleweight star Jermaine Taylor a $4 million purse for what would become a highly anticipated July or September bout. But Taylor told the BBC that he would only challenge for Calzaghe's lightly regarded WBO crown if the champion would increase the payout to around $10 million. Meanwhile, aging former champ Roy Jones Jr. has said he would fight Calzaghe should Taylor prove unattainable.

NFL: Adam "Pacman" Jones said he would appeal a suspension that will cost Jones a year's salary. "I think it was a little bit harsh," Jones said. "I expected the suspension, but for a whole year for a guy that hadn't been charged with nothing?" Jones was made an example by a league trying to clean up its image. Last year, Jones didn't tell his team, Tennessee, he was arrested twice in Georgia. Las Vegas police also intend to charge Jones for inciting a strip club fight that led to a triple shooting.

OLYMPICS: The U.S. Olympic Committee chose Chicago over Los Angeles for its entry to draw the Summer Olympics back to America in 2016. Los Angeles, which hosted the Summer Games in 1984 and 1932, offered a ready-made infrastructure, but Chicago's promise to build a $366 million temporary stadium and a $1.1 billion Olympic village along Lake Michigan won the day.


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