By Tyvan Burns, Diamond Durant and Denver Lark (#TeamOptimistic, NNPA DTU Journalism Fellowship)
Dating back to 1947, when Jackie Robinson became the first African American Major League Baseball (MLB) player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, increasing diversity and inclusion continues to be two of the league’s most important objectives.
As the league’s Deputy Commissioner for Baseball Administration, Dan Halem has taken on those missions.
Growing up in central New Jersey, Halem played, watched and loved baseball.
Now Halem oversees legal affairs, labor relations, baseball operations, human resources, the Department of Investigations, and diversity efforts for the league. Halem said that he wants to bring baseball to areas and kids that otherwise would not be exposed to it.
“We are encouraged by our draft results and we have had more African Americans players drafted in the last five years than we’ve had in [previous] years,” Halem said. “The way to have more diversity amongst our players is to create as many opportunities for kids to play baseball as possible.
Halem continued: “African American [children] will play baseball, if you bring it to them and organize it, just like any kids. The league needs to organize things to make it easier for them; if we take away the barriers…they’ll play.”
The league’s efforts to increase diversity on the field and in the front office come at a time when 42.5 percent of all players in the MLB are minorities, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). However, less than eight percent of MLB players are Black, African American or African Canadian. In 1991, nearly 20 percent of all players were African American.
In 2016, the league launched the Fostering Inclusion through Education and Leadership Development (FIELD) program to increase minority participation in professional baseball. The Undefeated reported that, “FIELD offers its participants access to a vast network of sports professionals, from the commissioner’s office to individual minor league clubs.”
Last year, the league created a fellowship program designed to advance diversity in the front office, The Shadow League reported.
Halem acknowledged that, over time, baseball has evolved tremendously.
“Baseball has become more sophisticated and has really begun to understand that it’s an entertainment product that competes with other products for people’s attention,” Halem said. “[Baseball] has to adapt to stay relevant and competitive in this market place. The league has been much more focused on promoting our players, as individuals, and using social media more.”
Halem also said that he wants to create scholarships and training opportunities for aspiring journalists interested in writing about baseball, in an effort to increase awareness about the sport and grow the league’s fan base.
Tyvan Burns (Norfolk State University), Diamond Durant (Morgan State University) and Denver Lark (North Carolina A&T University) are 2018 Discover The Unexpected Journalism Fellows representing #TeamOptimistic. Check out more stories by #TeamOptimistic at nnpa.org/dtu.