Saturday, November 20, 2010

Investing/Exploiting Young Latinos in Baseball

In “Learning America’s Other Game” by Adrian Burgos, the author writes how baseball traveled wherever the American flag went and ushered in capitalism and colonialism. Well, it appears as though things have not changed much since the Western Expansion in 1860s and 1870s. According to a recent New York Times article, U.S. investors, with few ties to baseball, are building their own Dominican Republic baseball training academies for teenage, impoverished boys. In exchange, these investors are guaranteed significant returns – as much as 50% of their player’s bonuses – when they sign with a Major League team. Agents in the United States receive about 5% of player’s bonuses. Sounds a lot like child exploitation to me than a sound financial investment, as some of these U.S. investors are saying.

I find it interesting how in Burgos’s article, Latinos were often pigeonholed into black or white categories, and their “browness” was often a cause for concern or racial anxiety. However, the NY Times articles shows how the “browness” is a positive, and even economically attractive, feature. Burgos writes how suspicions over a Cuban player’s racial ancestry in 1908 raised such a frenzy that the owner had to travel to Cuba to verify his player’s non-black racial status. These “ethnocentric” notions of identity led many Latino players to be marginalized in baseball’s history, which was often written in black and white terms. In 2010, rather than being hesitant about selecting a Latino player for the team, U.S. owners are actively pursuing, training, and in a sense, buying young, impoverished Latino boys. I wondered what drove these U.S. owners to make these risky investments in these young boys, even though many of whom have not even hit puberty yet or can really showcase their skill? One U.S. investor answered my question - “Are we there to make a profit? Absolutely,” said Gary Goodman, a real estate lawyer, who , like many investors wires thousands of dollars a month to feed, clothe, house and train the prospects, many who cannot read and do not attend school.

Ok, so at least these young boys have a place to live and food to eat, right? Think again. These academies are usually small houses surrounded by concrete walls and metal fences topped with barbed wire “to prevent break-ins,” as one investor put it. Sounds more like a prison to me.

Currently, no regulatory body can oversee the practices and conditions of these investors’ academies. Most of the players who attend academies are teenage boys who have dropped out of school to train. If these young players do make it to the Major Leagues, their lack of formal schooling will undoubtedly leave them more vulnerable to exploitation since the Major League baseball world is full of scandals, steroid misuse, and players lying about their ages.

Baseball is not America’s true pastime. It’s just another cover for America’s real pastime – capitalism, colonialism, and exploitation of vulnerable communities. Why can't we just play for the love of the game?

Photo by Juan Fach for the New York Times

Caption: Some Dominican baseball camps are built by Americans

Read the full article here:

New Exotic Investment: Latin Baseball Futures
Published: November 17, 2010
Investors are financing trainers or building academies in exchange for as much as half of players’ major league signing bonuses.

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