Hank Aaron: racists still exist. It’s just that “back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

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Hank Aaron dealt with a lot of blatant racism back when he was growing up in Alabama continuing on through his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record. But as he notes in an interview with USA Today, racists are still around. They’re just wearing different clothes:

We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated.

“We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country.

“The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

Aaron went on to cite the decrease in the number of U.S.-born black baseball players as evidence of racism:

“When I first started playing, you had a lot of black players in the major leagues,” Aaron says. “Now, you don’t have any (7.7% of big-leaguers last season). So what progress have we made? You try to understand, but we’re going backward.”

I’ll agree with him on the first point. Yes, the obvious racism of the Jim Crow era is mostly eradicated or at least well-hidden, but structural and institutional racism still exists and is perpetuated through both intentional and unwitting means.

As for the number of black baseball players: well, there may be some structural racism involved there. A lack of funds for baseball programs in which young black kids can play while expensive traveling youth leagues — available primarily to white players — proliferate. But there is a lot more going on there too. The popularity of other sports like football and basketball among them. And, as we’ve noted several times, baseball may have fewer U.S.-born black players involved, but it is more diverse than ever once you account for all of the foreign born players.

In any event, I’m happy to hear Aaron speaking out about this. There has been this sense of Aaron being elevated into some grandfatherly elder statesman of baseball. Which, yes, in many ways he is. But when people get that treatment they’re usually expected to no longer say controversial or uncomfortable things. To be above the fray, as it were, like other members of the royal class. I’m glad Aaron doesn’t feel like his enormous popularity prevents him from saying things that may make some folks uncomfortable.

MLB now trying to get minor leaguers exempted from minimum wage law at the state level

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In recent years, Major League Baseball spent significant amounts of money lobbying Congress to exempt minor leaguers from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. They succeeded last year, as minor leaguers are now considered seasonal workers and as such are not owed minimum wage or overtime pay.

MLB is not yet done attacking minor leaguers. Ben Giles of the Arizona Capitol Times reports that MLB is trying to get Arizona lawmakers to exempt players from state minimum wage law. A proposed bill, HB 2180, is being sponsored by Rep. T.J. Shope (R – Coolidge) and would protect MLB from lawsuits, past or present, for not paying minor leaguers at least minimum wage during spring training. Minor leaguers already do not get paid for their work in spring training, so this is simply a preemptive maneuver by MLB to protect itself from potential lawsuits. As Giles notes, HB 2180 would enshrine the exemption in federal law in Arizona’s state statute.

Shope said, “I think it’s just trying to clear up what MLB considers a gray area on their blank. … My assumption is they obviously do have a concern, and are trying to protect a flank of theirs more in the pro-active sense.” Talking about minor leaguers, Shope said spring training is “essentially a tryout. You’re not on the team yet.”

Garrett Broshuis, a former major leaguer and one of the lawyers representing Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odle in a case Craig wrote about here, spoke to Giles for his article. Broshuis said, “It really is just unfortunate, because the people of Arizona passed this law to require employers to pay all workers a minimum wage, and these ballplayers are performing a service that is a valuable service, and they deserve to be compensated at least the minimum wage for it.”

Broshuis is seeking class action status in a lawsuit against Major League Baseball in Florida and Arizona, the league’s two homes for spring training. Arizona is home to the Cactus League, the spring training league for the Angels, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Reds, Indians, Rockies, White Sox, Royals, Dodgers, Brewers, Athletics, Padres, Giants, Mariners, and Rangers. A federal judge denied Broshuis’s request but he appealed and is waiting on a ruling.

MLB makes a ton of money during spring training the same way it makes money during the regular season: by charging for tickets, concessions, merchandise, and parking. Minor leaguers are part of the player population helping attract fans to the ballpark, so they deserve to be compensated for their work. That they are not is criminal enough, but to brazenly push legislation to remove any legal remedies they might have had is even more evil. MLB has been setting revenue records year over year, taking in more than $10 billion last year. The league and its individual teams can afford to provide a comfortable life for minor leaguers, but every day it makes the choice not to do so out of avarice.