July 3rd game of the Washington Nationals vs. the New York
Mets was nothing short of thrilling. A packed house; standing
room only (and I mean standing room; my wife
and I could not purchase seats so we were only able to buy
standing room tickets); a beautiful day and one could not
have asked for more. Being a Mets fan living in the DC
area makes it difficult going to such a game, but to the
game we went.
To make a long
story short, at the bottom of the 9th, the Nationals won
in one of the most exciting game-ending moments I can remember.
But that is not
the point of this column.
When you are standing
throughout much of a game you get a different perspective.
You find yourself looking around and noticing things that
you might otherwise ignore. One thing that becomes very
apparent is the racial/ethnic hierarchy in the stadium.
At the bottom of the hierarchy are Latino janitorial staff
people. These are the people who are largely ignored by
the fans. They clean the bathrooms, remove the trash, and
come in after the game in waves in order to put the stadium
back together again.
Above this level
there are the vendors, but there are two levels to them.
There are the individuals who walk through the crowds selling
food and drink. These tend to be men in the age of 20 –
late 40s; African American and some whites. They carry
an immense amount of weight around in their baskets, and
I can only imagine what that does to their backs. The other
vendors are in the stalls, and here you find a significant
number of African American women.
Also in the stands
are those who seat you and make sure that you have the right
ticket (and if you don’t, remove you). This is a mixed
group of men who tend to be older, probably retirees (or
would-be retirees) seeking additional employment. Right
above them are individuals who appear to be security or
supervisory personnel. They appear to be white.
when you first show up, are women, mainly white. Those
taking the tickets at the gate and doing initial security
are almost entirely African American, both men and women.
The people who
actually run the show you never see, except from a distance
in their very expensive boxes. If you do a little research
you discover that they are of the
The other noticeable
thing is that the activities and visuals of the game are
not oriented towards African Americans. Modern baseball
games have all sorts of what can only be described as “side
shows.” Interviews, little antics, games-within-games at
the end of the innings, make this a multi-level entertainment
experience. There is, for instance, a video moment where
they have a “fan of the day.” There is another moment when
they video couples kissing (which is interesting when they
do not identify an actual couple or when they identify a
is striking in each of these situations is how infrequently
there are Black images. It is almost as if there are
no Black spectators, despite the fact that there is a presence
of Black fans, albeit probably no more than 20% of the attendees.
And, of course, it would be nice to take notice of being
in a predominantly African American city, but that might
be asking too much.
Despite the glorious
history of African Americans in baseball, you could get
the impression at a Nationals game that we are completely
irrelevant to the sport, albeit with the exception of the
10% of players who are African American (down from 25% in
1975) and as service workers to make sure that other folks
have a good time. I wish that I could say that this was
only a problem in Washington, DC. No such luck. Despite
the love for the sport still in evidence within wide sections
of Black America, the owners of Major League Baseball have
done little to connect the sport—and its stadiums—to urban
Black communities. This goes way beyond ticket prices,
since, among other things, there is a wide range of prices
these days. It has to do with whether African Americans
are actually welcomed to the game.
To be honest it
feels more like we are politely tolerated rather than welcomed.
I do not expect that to change until there is a popular
demand for change from Black America. That demand needs
to start now.
Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with
for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis
in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice(University of California Press), which
examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.