NEW YORK – Orioles outfielder Adam Jones made waves last week when he discussed the absence from Major League Baseball of protests like Colin Kaepernick taking a knee for the national anthem. In his interview with USA Today, Jones made several salient points, but there was one line that stood out above all the rest.“Baseball is a white man’s sport,” he said. MORE: Convergence of politics and sportsTo nine-time All-Star and 1992 Sporting News Player of the Year Gary Sheffield, now an analyst for TBS, this was not a revelation. At a media luncheon on Tuesday, Sheffield explained why Jones’ comments did not surprise him at all. “I don’t know why that’s news,” Sheffield said. “That’s been going on forever. We’ve been saying this for a long time. So, I don’t look at it as anything different than what somebody else said. What he’s referring to is, Major League Baseball is a sport where, when you look at what I said 15 years ago, 10 years ago, it’s happening now. All he’s doing is repeating it. I said it would be
0% (black players in ), but it’s 6%. When I came in the league, it was 40%. So, basically, he’s just repeating what people said.”Sheffield was most vocal about the issue of African-Americans in baseball in 2007, when he was with the Tigers and caused some controversy in an interview with GQ when he said, “What I called is that you’re going to see more black faces, but there ain’t no English coming out. … (It’s about) being able to tell (Latin players) what to do – being able to control them. Where I’m from, you can’t control us.”MORE: Baseball’s whiteness shouldn’t stop protestingAt the time, Sheffield’s point was misconstrued somewhat as a criticism of Latin players, when what he meant was that baseball was taking advantage of young players uncomfortable standing up for themselves in a non-native language, in a place that was not their home. At the same time, Sheffield was lamenting baseball’s decline in the black community in the United States.Sheffield was right about that decline, and about its effects. That’s why he saw Jones as carrying on the message that he and others pressed. At the same time, Sheffield expressed understanding of players’ reluctance to speak up on race and other issues.“It’s the biggest stage,” Sheffield said Tuesday. “If you were a guy that stands for something and fight for what you believe in, you should. I don’t think every player should speak up, because that’s not your personality, not who you are. If it’s your personality, yeah. I just don’t respect players that don’t acknowledge the fact of what he’s saying. I don’t respect players like that.”MORE: National anthem protests around sports, in photosJones has earned respect, not only from Sheffield, but in Baltimore, where he has played since 2008, making five All-Star teams. With the Orioles, Jones is a team leader and someone whose voice means a lot, on and off the field.“He’s really grabbed hold of the community, and the community’s grabbed hold of him,” Hall of Famer and Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. said. “He gives of himself philanthropically, and I think the type of town and his style of play, they’ve really grabbed him. He’s a durable, everyday player that performs and cares about winning. So, he’s become a leader. I think a lot of his leadership is by doing, by being a good example, by being in the middle of the lineup and caring enough and wanting to be in the lineup every day where you set that sort of standard for everyone else. Sometimes a boisterous leader, but I think his presence in the community, his presence on the team and the way he goes about his job, that’s his greatest leadership quality.”MORE: If not Jones, who will you listen to?In a lot of ways, Ripken could have been talking about his own leadership qualities, and he recognized that with such stature comes an ability to amplify social issues.“I think when you become a professional athlete, you do have a platform different from when you’re not a professional athlete, and it’s what you decide to do with that platform,” Ripken said. “You’re talking to somebody, me, who was always very careful with that sort of platform of influence. I think I was hesitant because there is a cause and effect if you decide to go out on an issue. You have the right to do that, to use your platform any way that you want. If you’re all right with some of the things that happen as a result of that, and you feel strongly about it, by all means, go do it.”Jones was comfortable speaking up, felt strongly enough and did it. He kept a conversation going that needs to continue as baseball deals with race, whether or not that conversation extends outside the diamond with protests like Kaepernick’s.