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Op/ed: Baseball Can No Longer Ignore Ron DeSantis’s Culture Wars

Columnist, Journalism Professor Calls for MLB to Flee Florida

By Kevin B. Blackistone

Washington Nationals players at spring training

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray loosens up during spring training workouts in West Palm Beach, Fla., last month. A Washington Post columnist and UMD faculty member is urging teams to consider moving out of the state to protest Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' anti-diversity moves.

Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Decades ago, the Sunshine State’s hostility and violence toward African Americans prompted some Major League Baseball franchises to move spring training to Arizona, a preseason exodus that a University of Maryland journalism scholar is recommending teams again consider in light of what he calls an “attack on diversity” by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Writing in The Washington Post, columnist and Philip Merrill College of Journalism Professor of the Practice Kevin B. Blackistone says presidential contender DeSantis’ offenses include championing the state’s “don’t say gay bill,” moving to outlaw state funding for college programs to advance diversity, equity and inclusion and attacking an African American studies Advanced Placement course—adding up to the kind of anti-inclusive atmosphere that baseball once decided to sidestep.

It was not necessarily coincidental that the year was 1947, the same season the game allowed Jackie Robinson to be the first Black man to play in its major leagues in 60 years. The Brooklyn Dodgers, who famously signed Robinson, strategically opened spring training in Havana that year. Dodgers co-owner and general manager Branch Rickey, who directed the recruitment and signing of Robinson, wanted him to break in where Black baseball players had a more comfortable history.

But Rickey’s new peer in Cleveland, Bill Veeck, who had searched for a way to break the game’s color barrier earlier in the decade, decided to go a step further. He junked tradition. After buying the Cleveland franchise in 1946, Veeck decided in 1947 to detach the team from its Lakeland, Fla., spring training grounds, where it had been since 1922, and replant it in Tucson. He thought Arizona, which he had explored as a retirement home, would be more hospitable toward Black players than Florida. Florida was home to Jim Crow laws that made it difficult for even Black ballplayers, no matter how temporary their residency would be, to find hotels or motels for their stay, or restaurants and lunch counters at which to dine. The decrees were enforced by White vigilantes who made Florida home to three of the deadliest counties in the South in per capita lynchings of Black people.

Read the rest in The Washington Post.



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