The Myth About Baseball Dispelled

To anyone paying attention, the participation of African Americans in baseball has fallen off acutely over the past 30 years. More African-Americans were elected to Congress as Republicans last election than appeared in the World Series. Major League Baseball has experienced a meteoric decline of 60 percent in participation by Blacks Since 1985. The Willie Stargell-led Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1970’s –“We Are Family”– had starting line ups that were often 75% Black. Participation in MLB by African Americans exceeded 25% thirty years ago. This is a far cry from the current percentage of American-born Blacks in the League, which has dropped to 8.5% and is still tumbling.

Plainly, participation in professional baseball is directly related to participation in baseball during the developmental years, starting with youth baseball. There are a couple of preposterous but popular reasons which are conveniently trotted out to explain why there are so few Blacks in the game today. Major League Baseball and others claim that Black kids don’t play youth baseball because a) the game is too slow and unappealing, b) it takes too long to reach the big leagues because of the minor league system, and c) all Black kids want to be LeBron James or Cam Newton. These notions are way off base. In reality, kids will play any sport given the opportunity. Put simply, underserved kids no longer play baseball because of money. The free pickup sandlot games of the past are no longer. Youth baseball is totally organized and commercialized, leaving low-income kids watching from outside the fence.  According to ESPN the industry of youth baseball is “a business enterprise designed to exclude those without the means and mobility to participate. Over the past 15 to 20 years, the proliferation of pay-for-play teams in youth baseball — and the parallel proliferation of parents willing to pay for them and coaches willing to cash their checks — has had more of an impact on African-American participation than anything another sport has to offer.”

Then there are the ‘elite travel teams.’ These are the teams comprised of the supposed better players who receive the best coaches (often private), elite training, top competition, national travel, and –what is most important– maximum exposure. The price tag to play on one of these elite teams generally runs well into the thousands of dollars per season, per child. But these players are not necessarily always the best athletes. They are mainly the kids who are good athletes that are blessed with financially capable parents. According to Rob Ruck author of Raceball, “These days, aspiring ballplayers hone their game on travel teams that are expensive to join. Boys in fatherless households are unlikely to grow up with a love for the game or the bucks to participate.”

This year’s Little League World Series clearly demonstrated that the African American kids can and will play baseball, given the opportunity. The two finalists were teams from Chicago and Philadelphia that were comprised mostly of minorities who participated in city-supported baseball programs which were augmented by charitable funding.  You may have noticed that the teams in the tournament that were not from major urban areas were mostly white. That’s because, to the exception of a handful of programs located in big cities with large minority populations, baseball is pay-to-play and not subsidized, putting it out of reach for kids from low and some medium income families. Kids from low income families have little or no chance of playing on an elite travel team. Economics is why Black kids don’t play baseball. To claim that they simply no longer like the sport is just another way of avoiding the truth.

The good news is that the decline in participation in baseball by underserved kids is reversible. The first step is to identify and confront the real culprit—the commercialization of youth baseball.

Top 10 Children Health Concerns

According to a 2013 pole by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital adults rated these issues as the top ten child health concerns.

  1. Childhood obesity
  2. Drug abuse
  3. Smoking and tobacco
  4. Bullying
  5. Stress
  6. Alcohol
  7. Child abuse
  8. Teen pregnancy
  9. Internet safety
  10. Depression

Youth Sports can have a direct and significant effect on almost every issue on this list.  From obesity all the way to depression, getting kids involved in sports can have immediate effects.  Besides the obvious reasons like being in better shape and the health benefits, playing sports also helps in other areas such as mood and behavior.  With 1 in 3 kids considered obese, the lack of easy access to youth sports is extremely prevalent.  It is a fun and easy way for them to stay in shape but high costs keep significant amounts away.

Kids involved in after school sports are also less likely to sit idle, tend to perform better in school, and are less likely to have issues with the law.  Statistically, children who do not play sports are three times more likely to get in trouble with the law.  Sports also teach kids valuable lessons in self-discipline and time management, which ultimately help them to perform better in school.  Youth sports may not be the only answer to these problems, but they can be a major step in the right direction.

The Kids Play USA Foundation is hard at work combating these issues.  Through advocacy, fund raising, and awareness programs, KPU won’t stop until all of today’s youth have the equal participation opportunities.

Shut Out: Young Athletes Sidelined By Money


As the chairman of the department of tourism, recreation and sport management at the University of Florida, Michael Sagas had a pretty good idea what to expect when his daughter started playing travel soccer. But even he was taken aback by the tally when her team started playing in regional and national tournaments.

Her latest season, which ended July 24, cost the family $18,115.41, Sagas said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Sagas’ daughter is lucky: Her parents have the resources to make high level soccer happen for her. Yet in soccer and other sports, the rising popularity of expensive club and academy teams and the spread of costly tournaments all over the country, are making it harder for low income youth to participate.

Even school teams are getting more expensive. A study by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that 61 percent of respondents reported paying to participate in middle school and high school sports.

The end result is that a significant share of lower income children and adolescents find themselves shut out of team sports.

Click here to read more.

Kids Play USA and the James Mosher Baseball League

Kids Play USA showed our support for our partners at the James Mosher Baseball League by participating in their Opening Day Parade on April 26, 2014. This marked the start of their 55th season.

James Mosher Baseball, a fellow organization that provides sports opportunities to youth, offers baseball opportunities to youth between the ages of 4 through 18. With over 50 adult volunteers on board, James Mosher Baseball is dedicated to sharing the experience of baseball with both boys and girls in the Baltimore area and is one of the oldest African-American youth baseball leagues in the country.

Together with Kids Play USA and our partners at Leveling the Playing Field, 300 mostly underserved youth are provided with equipment and are given programmatic support to participate in this wonderful program.

To learn more about James Mosher Baseball, please visit:

Kids Play USA is rolling out our new 2014 Spring and Summer Partnership Pograms

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