Updated: Jan 8, 2021
Anyone who knows me knows about my love affair with baseball. When my Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 2015, one friend remarked, “Based on everyone’s responses on your Facebook page, it feels like you got married and had a baby, combined.” I’ve been obsessed with the game for as long as I can remember, and it’s so deep-seated that I have a hard time explaining why.
But baseball has disappointed me for several years in more meaningful ways, ways in which it both can reflect and can influence society. For example, the sport has struggled to slow the steady decline in interest from Black players and fans, and no major leaguer has come out as a member of the LGBTQ community. The team from Kansas City—where my all-time favorite historical figure Jackie Robinson once played—did not have a single Black player on its 2020 opening day roster. When Colin Kaepernick symbolized a movement throughout sports and society, Adam Jones explained why no Black baseball players dared to kneel during the national anthem: “We already have two strikes against us already, so you might as well not kick yourself out of the game. . . . Baseball is a white man’s sport.” While Major League Baseball (along with the rest of society) made some progress in its support for Black Lives Matter in 2020, the league has as long way to go (along with the rest of society).
That brings me to Kim Ng, whose hiring as the Miami Marlins’ general manager was announced this past Friday. Ng is the first woman general manager of a major North American men’s professional sports team. She is also baseball’s first Asian-American GM.
When I heard the news, I was immediately elated. When it sunk in that a woman of color now held the top executive position for one of 30 teams in my favorite sport (hired by the first Black CEO of an MLB team, no less), my eyes welled up.
Ng has worked in Major League Baseball for three decades and interviewed for at least seven other GM jobs. Of course, as women working in the field will line up to say, “It’s about time. This is so well deserved, but it should have happened years ago.” (Sound familiar?) Ng’s accomplishment is yet another symbol of a sad reality: “Every woman who has worked her way up to the highest levels of a male-dominated business has been overqualified, tough as nails and afraid of nothing save perhaps the fragility of men standing in the way of her success one more time.” As one columnist characterized the milestone, “It’s hardly compensation for the whole lousy historical imbalance, the sexist exclusion, but it’s not small, either.”
Still, like our ages-overdue election of a woman to the White House, this is a moment for celebration. I never thought baseball, anachronistic in its pace and many attitudes, would be the sport to break this ground, to shatter this glass. And the sport is celebrating the moment, universally and unequivocally as far as I can tell. The Marlins organization was so proud that it changed its Twitter profile picture to one of Ng. Royals’ TV announcer and former major leaguer Rex Hudler shared this reaction:
Royals' executive Gene Watson characterized the mood poignantly:
I’ve been celebrating along with them, and I just can’t stop. Kim Ng, and her many fans, give me hope that baseball might not be a White Man’s Sport after all.
Arash Jahanian is the Director of Policy and Civil Rights Litigation at the Meyer Law Office. His practice includes immigrants’ rights policy at the state and local level, and litigation on behalf of victims of employment discrimination, wage theft, and governmental abuse. Arash served as the president of the Colorado LGBT Bar Association and Chair of the Denver LGBTQ Commission. He is also on the board of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, nominating committee for the Denver Citizen Oversight Board, and litigation committees for the ACLU of Colorado and Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center. Arash prides himself on pulling for the underdog.