Jackie Robinson day and racism in sports

Jackie Robinson is a name everyone has heard of  unless you are completely tone deaf to anything sports talk.

On April 15, MLB players, coaches, fans etc. honor the ‘first’ African-American baseball player by wearing his number 42 as a tribute.

Commissioner Allen (Bud) Selig and MLB have celebrated Robinson’s legacy as the first African-American to break the color barrier by retiring his number throughout the League in 1997 and, since 2004, dedicating April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day in his memory.

Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947 as a first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

However, Robinson is actually not the first African-American to play baseball in America.

In sports history books, it is shown that the very first African-American ball player was Moses Fleetwood Walker.

Walker dealt with Cap Anson, manager of the Chicago White Stockings who threatened Walker’s team, the Toledo Blue Stockings, and refused to play against a black player in 1883.

Charlie Morton played Walker anyway by telling Anson the White Stockings would forfeit if they did not play.

Ironic is that Robinson’s number was 42.

The same number MLB encourages fans, players and coaches to wear on April 15.

The number of games that Walker played? Yup, you guessed it: 42.

It wouldn’t be until 1946, with Robinson playing in the minors with the Dodgers before starting his first MLB game, would the color barrier be broken.

It is hard to say exactly who should be honored with all the people who made breakthroughs in the color barrier–because that question again of who should be honored and why would be hard to differentiate.

What about hall of famer Baltimore O’s manager John McGraw?

He signed Charley Grant in the turn of the century in 1901, but told reporters Grant was a Cherokee since African-Americans weren’t allowed to play at that time.

McGraw claimed to have signed a Charlie Tokohama, instead of saying Charlie Grant, to try to set a ruse; it failed, however and Grant went back to playing for the African-American baseball league.

There are many more stories and people that hit close to home and played for Baltimore such as Joe Durham or Jay Heard in 1954.

While Jackie Robinson Day is a great idea and Robinson is a person who deserves to be remembered, don’t forget about others.

Robinson was a man who did not see himself as an icon; he loved baseball and wanted to do whatever it took to play ball.

Dave Zirin of The Edge of Sports and author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States, spoke on this topic during his talk at Towson University at the end of March 2010.

“One of the talking heads on ESPN said …something about activist athletes and thought what the hell was that… I tried to find books on the tradition of sports and politics and how they came together…but there was no book that actually talked about it,” Zirin said about why he ended up writing that book in 2009.

“How athletes use their hyper-exulted brought-to-you-by-Nike platform to talk about their world in which they live for better or for worse–some people think “shup up and play,” but I am one of the people that think well shoot you have this incredible platform why not use it?”

Remember Jackie as a great man who loved the game.

Someone who inspired many, maybe even you.

But don’t forget that there are many other players out there who also did a lot to break that color barrier; that is what Jackie Robinson day is all about–remembering that when it comes to sports, it shouldn’t matter whether you are black, pink, purple, white or green.

The only thing that should matter is the scoreboard and crossing home plate.


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5 Responses to “Jackie Robinson day and racism in sports”

  1. Luke Jones Says:

    Very good read, and thanks for the link. I think a great issue to discuss in the present is the alarming decline of African Americans playing the game of baseball. So many factors involved–far too many to bring up through this comment forum–but it’s a shame to see so many tremendous athletes choosing to play sports other than baseball.

    • Genna Jean Wittstadt Says:

      So many people have stopped caring about the game of baseball altogether. It’s sad, too. America’s “favorite pastime” has become a thing of the past. But the ideology now is that baseball is barely a sport and no one cares anymore. That is evident when watching games on TV, or going to the stadiums, and seeing the empty seats. Granted, the O’s smell worse than the water in the harbor, but a fan should always be a fan. And it isn’t just the O’s; it seems like unless it is the Yanks, Sox or Phillies, many people don’t care.

      • conoonk Says:

        I think a lot of it has to do with TV itself. Baseball is a game to watch in the stadium. It’s just not the same watching it on TV. TV is more for sports like football.

        NFL may be making more money than MLB, but I think baseball is still America’s most popular sport.

  2. Genna Jean Wittstadt Says:

    **updated: misspelled Mcgraw.

  3. Tates Says:

    Check out a 1970’s movie – I think it was called “Bingo Long and his traveling Allstars and Motorcade” – I remember Billy D Willams and Richard Pryor were in it.

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