Philanthropy, Sports Leagues

Opening Day – Social Impact in the MLB | Part One

Yesterday, Major League Baseball’s 30 clubs* across the continent (can’t forget about Canada) kicked off their 2018 season. Fun fact: March 29th is the earliest Opening Day in MLB history and it was the first time that all teams were scheduled an Opening Day game on the exact same day. In honor of the return of baseball, we took a look at how the league itself gives back in part one of a three part series that will be shared throughout the 2018 MLB season.

*note: The Cincinnati Reds had to postpone their game against the Washington Nationals due to weather, so only 28 clubs kicked off on Thursday.

Baseball’s Historical Impact

When discussing baseball’s impact on philanthropy and social change, Jackie Robinson and his iconic MLB career must be a part of the conversation. Jackie Robinson started for the Brooklyn Dodgers on Opening Day, April 15th, 1945. (The link has a great clip of some action shots of Robinson in his MLB debut). April 15th was officially recognized as Jackie Robinson Day in 2004.

Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball and set an example for desegregation and racial equality in other professional sports as well as in American society. Just one year later, President Truman desegregated the United States military. Even now, 73 years later, sports and American society have taken big strides when it comes to racial equality, but there is still a long way to go. 

Another famous baseball player in American history was Lou Gehrig. Gehrig was one of the best players in the game of baseball until he was forced to retire early after being diagnosed with ALS, a disease of the nervous system that weakens muscles and physical functions. The MLB has since been a staunch supporter of ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

How does baseball make an impact today?

The MLB still has a historic relationship with the country. No one can deny the history of baseball and how it has influenced the trend of sport for social change in American society. Baseball is no longer America’s favorite sport and their fans are getting older as time goes on. The average age of baseball fans is 53 and the sport’s viewers are predominantly male. The NFL has taken the MLB’s place as America’s favorite, but the aging fans and decline in youth interest hasn’t translated to a drop revenue for the MLB. This season, baseball players will earn average salaries of a whopping $4.52 million – 130 of those players will make more than $10 million.

The MLB implements multiple community outreach programs that run at a league-wide level throughout the season. The league partners with 17 major organizations, focusing on cancer and ALS awareness and fundraising, environmental issues and national park conservation, responsible drinking and fan behavior, healthy development of youth across the country and more. From 2000-2012, the league and its clubs collectively raised more than $131 million for various community initiatives and causes.

Most sports fans are familiar with initiatives like the MLB’s Mother’s Day for Breast Cancer Awareness and Father’s Day for Prostate Cancer Awareness campaigns. Initiatives like the Baseball Tomorrow Fund aim to grow the participation of youth baseball across the country through grants and community programs. Here are a few initiatives that the general public may not be aware of, like the Baseball Assistance Team, Shred Hate and MLB Green.

Unique MLB League Wide Initiatives

The Baseball Assistance Team is a program that assists members of the baseball family who are in need, through grants, health resources and counseling. This confidential program doesn’t just apply to Major and Minor League players and coaches. Scouts, umpires, athletic trainers, front office staffs, Negro League players, and players from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League are all covered under the initiative, as are their immediate families. The money donated to this initiative is fundraised primarily by players, coaches and managers. Players like Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones serve on the board. This year, $3.3 million was raised and the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals were recognized for having the league’s top contributors.

The league has also started an initiative called Shred Hate that partners with No Bully, The X Games and ESPN to eliminate bullying by encouraging kids to choose kindness. No Bully, an organization based in San Francisco, boasts a 90% success rate at eliminating the issues of bullying and cyberbullying in more than 250 schools around the world. They have accomplished this success by implementing training programs with school administrators and teachers.

MLB Green is a unique environmental movement the league has initiated. The focus is on sustainable partnerships and innovation that promote better environmental practices. The league is the first to have all of its Clubs gain membership of the Green Sports Alliance, which promotes healthy, sustainable communities in sports. Clubs have embraced this program and created their own sustainable projects to support the league wide initiative. The LEED certified Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins, has recycled more than 3.1 million gallons of rainwater to lessen the venue’s reliance on the municipal water supply.

Sustainable Initiatives Starting at the Top

It is great to see the MLB adopting and embracing sustainable initiatives from the league standpoint. The MLB gets their players and clubs to buy into league wide community initiatives and make it authentic. While there is always room to improve, the fact that the league has adopted sustainable impact strategies in several major cause areas bodes well for the philanthropic initiatives of its supporting cast of clubs and players. The more support a club gets from the top, the more authentic and impactful the local initiatives can be. 

Part One of our Social Impact in the MLB series dove into specifics at the league level. Clubs also have their own local causes and charities that they support, as do the players. With 81 home games to work with each year, MLB Clubs and players have plenty of opportunities to give back to their home team communities. Stay tuned for parts two and three later this season!


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