Caribbean-American singer, actor, director, and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte was honored with a Beacon Award by Major League Baseball for his work in promoting baseball among African-American youth. Also receiving the award were tennis player Billie Jean King and baseball legend Willie Mays says. The award ceremonylast Saturday was part of MLB’s Civil Rights weekend.
Mays recalled at a luncheon that he experienced prejudice when he broke into the big leagues, and he had a standard response. “You have no idea what I had to go through,” said Mays, now 79. “You have no idea what they would call me. But the more they called me, the farther the ball went. “They knocked me down, I got up, I hit it farther. Every time they knocked me down, I hit it farther. I was very positive.”
Belafonte was cited for his lifetime work to promote equality.
Belafonte, a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., spoke briefly and thanked baseball for honoring his civil rights work. He said baseball was one of his childhood passions.
“I grew up on the sport,” he said. “Jackie Robinson was a very close friend.”
Far fewer black youths are playing baseball lately, a trend Major League Baseball has been trying to address for years. The lack of interest was apparent in the lineups for the Civil Rights Game on Saturday night between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. Only one black player — Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips — was in the starting lineups.
An annual report last month found that 9 percent of major league players were black last season. The number was at an all-time low of 8.2 percent in 2007. Twenty-seven percent of the players were Latino last year and 2.3 percent were Asian.
Andrew Young, who was one of Martin Luther King’s top aides and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said it’s important to figure out how to “restore the pre-eminence of baseball” among youths who are now more interested in basketball and football.
“I worry about baseball,” Young said at the awards luncheon.
For more on this story go to http://atlantapost.com/2010/06/04/willie-mays-billie-jean-king-harry-belafonte-honored-by-mlb/