Black Excellence Needs Examples

Op-ed by David E. Marshall During the rise of Michael Jordan’s popularity in the summer of 1991, Gatorade ran an advertisement featuring the then 29-year-old future Hall of Famer. The advertisement aired immediately after he won his first of six total NBA championships. The purpose of the ad was to focus on young adults who […]

Black Excellence Needs Examples

Op-ed by David E. Marshall

David W. Marshall. File photo.

During the rise of Michael Jordan’s popularity in the summer of 1991, Gatorade ran an advertisement featuring the then 29-year-old future Hall of Famer.

The advertisement aired immediately after he won his first of six total NBA championships. The purpose of the ad was to focus on young adults who are dreaming big and want to become this great athlete while becoming a great person. They wanted to show that Michael Jordan is the dream that every kid wants to be. With this goal in mind, Gatorade created the “Be Like Mike” campaign.

It shows that any person of excellence is a positive influencer who lifts others by showing their commitment to a deep work ethic, inner integrity, and passion.

We don’t have to be Michael Jordan in order to believe in ourselves, set realistic high goals, keep learning and growing in our skills, to challenge ourselves outside of our comfort zone while always seeking to be around the best people.

We just need to relate with him in such a manner where his example of excellence can be accepted and duplicated.

While the Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros are competing in the 2022 World Series, it becomes the first time since 1950 that there will not be a single American-born Black player on either team’s 26-person roster.

“I don’t think that’s something that baseball should really be proud of. It looks bad,” Astros manager Dusty Baker told the Associated Press. “It lets people know that it didn’t take a year or even a decade to get to this point.”

Compare 2022 with 1979 when Willie Stargell and Dave Parker were among 10 Black players on the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates championship team. Long considered America’s National Pastime, baseball was helpful in leading the way to integration in 1947 with Jackie Robinson becoming the first African American to play Major League Baseball (MLB).

This occurred years before the Brown v Board of Education decision which ended legalized racial segregation in public schools.

Robinson not only transformed baseball with diversity, but his excellence on the field introduced the Brooklyn Dodgers to a prototype player who blended speed with power. His example paved the way for future players with similar attributes to be acquired by all MLB teams.

Today, baseball is not the game of choice for most inner-city youth. The choice easily basketball or football. Baseball is mainly a white suburban sport which is supplemented on the professional level by foreign labor.

We can not dismiss how important it is for youth of any race to have someone in the home who has a love for baseball and for that love to be passed down. Regarding African American families, when there are few players who they can relate to on television as examples, then the disparity in the number of African American, white, and Latin players will be difficult to close.

This disparity was decades in the making. On December 18, 2019, shortly after signing his nine-year, $324 million dollar contract to pitch for the New York Yankees, Gerrit Cole stood at a podium at Yankee Stadium and thanked Curt Flood. Just as Jackie Robinson was a Black player who forever changed the sport of baseball, the same was true with Curt Flood.

There was a period of time when most players had jobs during the off-season to make ends meet. When Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan broke into the major leagues in 1966, he spent the winter months working at a gas station. Every MLB player had in his contract what was known as ‘the reserve clause,” which bound players to their teams. Contracts, which were limited to one season, “reserved” the team’s right to retain the player for the next season. The players, even superstars, had no leverage to negotiate better deals.

After the 1969 season, the St. Louis Cardinals decided to trade Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies, but he refused to move to what he called “the nation’s northernmost Southern city.” Flood wrote to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn explaining why he refused to accept being traded.

“I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes,” Flood wrote.

“It is my desire to play baseball in 1970 and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions. I, therefore, request that you make known to all the major league clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.”

Kuhn denied the request. Knowing he would be blacklisted as a player and as a future coach or manager, Flood still made the decision to sue Kuhn and MLB arguing that the league’s control over players’ employment violated federal antitrust law and workers’ rights.

Over the next few years, the Supreme Court ruled against Flood in a 5-3 vote. In 1975, a loophole was found in the reserve-clause language that didn’t require going to court. As a result, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the players which meant the end of the reserve system and the beginning of what we now know as free agency. Thanks to Curt Flood’s bold courage and sacrifice, players’ wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions dramatically improved.

When baseball free agency increased players’ salaries, one response by MLB teams was to increase their efforts in other countries such as the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba when seeking the Jackie Robinson-type players with who possess the same combination of speed and power The Latin American pipeline provides MLB with a lucrative investment opportunity because they have historically been able to sign players who are desperate and see baseball as their only means of escaping poverty. In other words, it’s a source of cheap labor.

While MLB Diversity Development programs such as the PLAY BALL Initiative and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program are designed to steer children from underserved and diverse communities in the U.S. toward baseball, the love of basketball and football will always be tough to overcome.

~ David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book God Bless Our Divided America. He can be reached at