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Baseball protest by black lawyers stalls

With just eight days to go before two new expansion baseball teams are announced, a group of black lawyers conceded Monday that their protest against the teams may not succeed. Citing a lack of momentum, members of a task force from the National Bar Association said a much-publicized protest against the lack of minority representation in baseball ownership groups has fizzled in several cities being considered for a new team, including St. Petersburg.

The National Bar Association, which represents about 11,000 black lawyers, launched a protest in February against four of the six cities seeking a new team because ownership groups did not have black members.

Warren Dawson, a lawyer and civic activist in Tampa, conceded Monday that the lobbying efforts never really took off.

"The momentum has not gone as it could have or should have," said Dawson, who led the nationwide protest. "The actual activities have not been as vigorous as we would have liked."

Dawson stressed that members of the task force still resent that black people are not equally represented in ownership groups and argued that blacks are allowed on the playing fields but not in the board room. Dawson said he hopes the National League will reject teams that do not have black people on their boards.

Only activists in Miami still are demanding aggressively that black people be recruited to join the ownership groups. The Tampa Bay group does not have black members in its ownership group, Dawson said.

When the protest started, lawyers in each of the six cities formed a task force to lobby professional baseball and the cities' expansion groups for more black representation. Dawson was appointed chairman.

"It's been very slow," said John Crump, executive director of the National Bar, which is based in Washington, D.C. "We didn't do everything we hoped to do. But I think we had an impact."

Miami and Tampa Bay groups do not have black members, Crump said, but ownership groups in Orlando and Denver recently appointed blacks to advisory roles. Buffalo and Washington, D.C., groups had black investors from the beginning.

A.J. Cooper, the attorney representing Washington in the Bar's task force, said the protest was important because it raised questions.

"It's not whether we succeeded or failed," Cooper said. "It's whether Major League Baseball succeeded or failed. It is still rather outrageous that the baseball industry has not required minority investors."

H.T. Smith, a lawyer in Miami representing the Task Force, has aggressively targeted Miami's baseball effort in letters and meetings, demanding that black people be allowed to join the ownership team.

"We're fighting for our economic lives," Smith said. "If we do get a team and there is no black representation, we are not going to drop it."

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