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MLB’s Uncomfortable Event: The Civil Rights Game

24th March 2008

Maury Brown

As sports figures go, there may be none more profound than Jackie Robinson. With Branch Rickey and the Dodgers signing Robinson to a major league contract, Jackie broke through the deplorable Jim Crow laws that surrounded baseball until 1947 and broke baseball’s color barrier.

So, when I received word today on the panelists for “Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement” roundtable discussion at the second annual Civil Rights Game in Memphis, well, I was more than a bit uneasy reading it.

A professional sports industry that was criticized repeatedly by the African American press and public leading up to the Dodgers’ great gamble on Robinson, is now puffing its chest out about its place in history when it comes to Civil Rights.

And, MLB can claim that through the ’50’s and ’60’s when the diversity of the game grew with the likes of Larry Doby, Minnie Miñoso, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, and Roy Campanella. But, color me uneasy about baseball leading the charge on Civil Rights while being an example of bigotry for so many years. It’s hypocritical on a certain level.

So, while this year’s panelists, Hank Aaron, Martin Luther King III, Belize Ambassador Shabazz, Sharon Robinson, Omar Minaya, and Ken Williams talk about what individuals that played the game did for Civil Rights, keep an ear peeled and see if there is anything more than a passing comment about the bigotry that faced the players. Aaron, now front office executive, could surely attest to the bigotry he faced once in MLB, and well remember those that were locked out from playing against the likes of Ruth, or Cobb, if Cobb would have stood for it. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be for the panel to expend a large portion of its discussion on MLB’s stonewalling of black players for decades on end, while sitting in front of some banner showing the Civil Rights Game logo behind them. Somehow, I doubt MLB, in their arrogant wisdom would have planned for that.

Here’s a suggestion… See if any family members of “Cool Papa” Bell or Rube Foster, or Josh Gibson want to speak about Major League Baseball and Civil Rights. When MLB does that, then I will feel a little less queasy about a “Civil Rights Game” being thrown by the league of former bigots.


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Maury Brown

Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

Brown’s full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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