Five days after George Floyd was killed while in custody of the Minneapolis police on May 25, N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell released a 150-word statement about the death and ensuing protests. The N.H.L. and N.B.A. followed suit the next day.
But M.L.B.’s first public statement on the matter did not come until 10:29 a.m. on Wednesday — nine days after Floyd’s death. Until then, its only words came from a leaked internal memo from Commissioner Rob Manfred to employees on Monday.
“Our game has zero tolerance for racism and racial injustice,” the statement on Wednesday read. “The reality that the Black community lives in fear or anxiety over racial discrimination, prejudice or violence is unacceptable.
“Addressing this issue requires action both within our sport and society. MLB is committed to engaging our communities to invoke change. We will take the necessary time, effort and collaboration to address symptoms of systemic racism, prejudice and injustice, but will be equally as focused on the root of the problem.”
For some fans and players, the delay in comment from a league that bills itself as a social institution and wraps itself in the legacy of Jackie Robinson did not sit well.
“Took long enough…BLACK LIVES MATTER!,” Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman, who is black, wrote on Twitter while sharing M.L.B.’s statement.
Nathan Kalman-Lamb, who teaches about the intersection of sport, labor, race and social inequality at Duke University, said he found sports leagues’ statements to be particularly hollow now considering how they responded — or didn’t — to the peaceful protests by the former N.F.L. quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016.
“If the N.F.L. or Major League Baseball had come out and endorsed that statement, saying they’re going to make meaningful and material changes to support a movement against police violence and policy brutality and murder in society against black people, that would’ve sounded pretty powerful to me,” Kalman-Lamb said.
Instead, Kaepernick faced backlash for his actions, remains unemployed by an N.F.L. team and settled his collusion case with the league last year. In M.L.B., the league, teams and players were relatively silent on the issue at the time.
Considering the extent of the protests over the past week, Kalman-Lamb said, “it doesn’t mean that much to me when more than a week later an organization like Major League Baseball sees that almost every other corporation in the country had released a statement like this and followed suit.”
Baseball has long publicly grappled with racism and racial issues. Some of the best players in the sport’s history, like pitcher Satchel Paige and catcher Josh Gibson, had to play in the Negro leagues in the first half of the 20th century because of segregation. In 1947, Robinson integrated M.L.B. and the league has leaned heavily on his legacy, dedicating every April 15, the anniversary of his debut, in his honor. The last major league team to integrate was the Boston Red Sox in 1959.
The proportion of black players has dwindled from a peak of 19 percent in the 1980s to 8 percent in recent seasons. Sixty percent of players are white, a stark contrast to the N.F.L. and N.B.A., where black players make up the overwhelming majority.
While players in the N.B.A. and the N.F.L. were demonstrating in 2016, Adam Jones, who is black and was playing for the Baltimore Orioles at the time, called baseball “a white man’s sport.” Only one M.L.B. player, Bruce Maxwell, then a rookie catcher for the Oakland Athletics, knelt during the national anthem before a game. Players often worry about stirring controversy in baseball, a team sport that is filled with tradition and unwritten rules.
Manfred consulted with his staff before sending the one-page memo addressing the unrest to M.L.B.’s 1,400 employees on Monday, which the league prioritized before making a public statement. But since the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Floyd, M.L.B. players and team officials of all ethnicities have spoken up about race in a manner unseen in some time in the sport.
“As other people have pointed out, that’s better than nothing,” said Kalman-Lamb, referring to the waves of comments from players. “If it actually starts a real conversation now and doesn’t stop, that has value.”
Minnesota Twins Manager Rocco Baldelli, who is white, tweeted two days after Floyd’s death, “George Floyd should be breathing right now. We have a lot of progress to make.”
Adam Wainwright, a white pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, wrote on Twitter that he had reached out to his teammate Dexter Fowler, a black outfielder who has received racist attacks on social media in the past, “to tell him that I was sure he didn’t need my affirmation but just wanted him to know he was awesome and making a difference.”
According to Wainwright, Fowler told him that his call was needed. “The silence can be hurtful so I respect the hell out of you for reaching out,” Wainwright said Fowler told him. “Would really be meaningful if you used your platform too!”
“My white privilege has allowed me to be oblivious to the true magnitude of oppression the black community faces,” Yankees pitcher James Paxton, who is white, wrote on his Instagram account. “My silence to this point is also a product of my white privilege. I’m beginning to realize my privilege and ignorance. Time to listen, learn and take action.”
On Monday, Derek Jeter, the former Yankees star and the son of a black father and white mother, was the first M.L.B. owner to release a statement about Floyd, and said protesters should not be demonized.
“I hope that my children and nephews don’t have to live in a society where people are unjustly treated because of the color of their skin,” his team-issued statement said. “I hope that their white friends grow up to recognize that it is not only enough to verbalize their non-racist views, but also to participate at an active level to eradicate racism.”
Statements from M.L.B. teams poured in ahead of the league’s statement. Some were criticized for being vague or boilerplate. The Yankees, for example, one of the most recognizable sports brands in the world, posted a quote from and a photo of former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa in Yankees gear and his Monument Park plaque.
“Black Lives Matter,” the Tampa Bay Rays’ statement read in part. “Police brutality is in inhumane. We fully support the protestors exercising their civil rights. We stand with black families living in fear. Our country demands better than this for its people. We can’t breathe.”
The Rays said its committee on diversity and inclusion would soon meet to decide where to direct a $100,000-a-year pledge to support causes fighting “against systemic racism.”
When M.L.B. finally issued its statement on Wednesday morning, some players were less concerned about the timing and more about its contents. “A statement done right ! Thank you, MLB,” Fowler wrote on Twitter.
Some observers pointed out that the statement didn’t mention the words “police brutality.” Others hinted at issues. “Give me a call,” the former major-league outfielder Preston Wilson wrote.