Tyson Foods, Black College World Series Partnership Expands Opportunity For HBCU Athletes
Michael Coker has dedicated his life to HBCU baseball. A college baseball writer and member of the NCBWA, a conversation with Bluefield State University’s head baseball coach ten years ago put Coker in a state of disbelief. The coach told Coker that HBCU baseball programs have nothing to play for, since their post-season baseball play typically ends after conference tournaments. Recognizing truth in the statement and seeing need for expanded HBCU post-season opportunities, Coker founded the Black College World Series. Now, through a partnership with Tyson Foods, the Black College World Series is expanding opportunity for HBCU athletes.
Founded in 2022, the Black College World Series is a postseason event that determines the HBCU baseball national champion. Eight teams across NCAA Division II and the NAIA fill two brackets and compete at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, Alabama. In 2022, Tyson Foods signed a three year partnership agreement to become the Black College World Series’ title sponsor.
“When you think about it from a Tyson Foods perspective, we are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in our company,” said Tyson Foods director of public relations, Derek Burleson. “Once we became aware of this event and the opportunity to support, promote and amplify the Black College World Series to a larger audience and elevate the experience for these student-athletes, we saw it as an opportunity to do the right thing on a number of levels.”
This year’s Black College World Series featured four days of engaging college baseball games and interactive programming. A highlight was the Tyson Foods Family Fun Day, featuring music, games, vendors and a wing cooking competition. Tyson Foods also gave away 80,000 pounds of frozen chicken to Montgomery area residents.
To expand the partnership’s reach, this year Tyson Foods hosted its board of directors meeting in Montgomery ahead of the event. Beyond the board meeting, every member of Tyson Foods’ board of directors engaged in Black College World Series festivities and attended games.
“We brought our board here to demonstrate how important this partnership is,” Burleson said. “It was an opportunity for the board to demonstrate how grateful we are for all of the work that has been done here locally by the various partners. It was also another opportunity to invest back in this community that has been so critical in making this event a success and that has really welcomed Tyson Foods with open arms.”
Burleson hopes Tyson Foods’ partnership with the Black College World Series motivates other corporations to invest in HBCUs.
“Our call to action to other companies would be to find their own Black College World Series and see how they can support HBCUs in similar fashion,” Burleson said.
The Black College World Series’ Coker hopes the event is a springboard for HBCU athletes into MLB. Black athletes’ participation in MLB has waned in recent years. 2023 MLB Opening Day saw the lowest number of Black baseball players on MLB rosters since 1955, with Black athletes comprising just 6.1% of the league’s players. Current MLB rosters feature zero HBCU alumni. MLB joined Tyson Foods as a sponsor of the Black College World Series. Coker is hopeful the event will increase MLB opportunities for Black athletes.
“”We think it’s going to bring back the youth into Major League Baseball,” Coker said. “Kids are realizing now that baseball is a true sport. And we’re starting to see numbers where the kids are coming back to baseball. And the head coaches know this.”
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