Jul 8, 2010 - Issue 383
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Feeling ignored by the Washington Nationals - The African World By Bill Fletcher, Jr., BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board

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The 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.

The cashiers, 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 lighter persuasion.

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 gay couple). 

What 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.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute 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.


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