Major League Baseball’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program will get a major boost now that Nike has come aboard as the presenting sponsor.
The absence of diversity is a conundrum that spans professional sports leagues. For those that have completely dropped the ball, the phrase "room for growth" has come to represent little more than empty words with no intention or action behind them. And for those, that on the surface, at least, appear to be succeeding in their strides towards diversity and inclusivity, there's the pressure to sustain the position of being a diversity pace-setter.
Major League Baseball is a behemoth in the professional sports world. And while they certainly have their flaws, they recognize the importance of diversity initiatives and the role that strong partnerships play in the success of said initiatives. So when it came to expanding the reach of their signature program to increase engagement on and off of the baseball diamond, they found a partner in Nike, whose approach to helping underserved communities through baseball and softball can be summed up in three words: “Just do it.”
MLB’s popular RBI initiative (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) now has Nike as the presenting sponsor, providing the kind of muscle that will only enhance its impact and outreach globally.
“The relationship with Nike over the last few years has grown significantly,” Tony Reagins, MLB’s Chief Development Officer, told EBONY. “The more we talked about RBI and its origin and what we’re trying to accomplish with RBI, the more engaged Nike became." He added, “Over the last year, those conversations just heated up. And Nike really made a commitment to allocate resources to RBI programming, the RBI branding, and ultimately, to impact the lives of young people in the RBI program.”
The relationship covers a wide range of areas, from content seen and produced on digital and social media platforms such as the MLB Network and MLB.com, to programs that are run and supported by MLB Clubs, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and other mission-driven groups with work centered around aiding underserved communities. This, among other initiatives, is just one of the many ways MLB is working to address its lack of diversity.
A May 2022 report by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) found the number of Black MLB players had shrunk to a level that had not been seen in more than three decades. The report showed that 7.2% of Major League Baseball teams had Black players, the lowest number since TIDES began collecting such data in 1991.
The 2022 World Series between Houston – whose manager, Dusty Baker, is Black – and Philadelphia featured not a single American-born African American – a first for a World Series since 1950. Such sobering statistics serve as reminders of just how important the RBI initiative, now with increased support from Nike, is in terms of generating more interest at a grassroots level for baseball. And it’s not just for boys, either. Enhancing the softball component of the RBI program is a key element in the overall growth of the program, bringing increased attention and awareness to young female athletes, which is an often overlooked and underappreciated part of the sports ecosystem.
“The RBI softball piece has grown, and it starts with the 11 academies we have around the country,” Reagins said. “There’s still work to do there. The softball space is really travel-oriented. So getting young ladies at the grassroots level who maybe aren’t as skilled to play travel ball, is important. That’s what we’re really focusing on; that grassroots player that’s just learning the game, that wants to play but doesn’t have the skill set to be a part of a big travel ball program that exists in the travel ball space.”
This is an essential component because as important as it may be in helping find, develop, and cultivate baseball and softball talent for the future, there are lessons to be taught and learned in the process of being in the RBI program that extend beyond hits and pitches. In addition to the opportunities to learn the game, there are also academic scholarships baked into the RBI program as well.
Reagins added, “That’s going to impact them long after they’re done playing. They may play four more years, five more years, let’s say 10 years. But the impact that scholarship plays in their lives and allows them to continue their dreams well into their lifetime, they’re not only going to impact themselves but they’re going to impact their families, their surrounding communities." Reagins went on, “So when you start talking about legacy and each one, teach one... all of those powerful sayings ring true through this program.”
More information about MLB’s RBI program in your community can be found at https://www.mlb.com/rbi