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It’s time to make Jackie Robinson proud

August 29, 2020, 12:00 AM UTC

Major League Baseball celebrates a pandemic-delayed Jackie Robinson day, the NBA gets back to work following the Jacob Blake strikes, and protestors march on Washington—once again.

But first, here’s your athletic week in review, in Haiku.

Take me out of the 
ball game, I am leaving the
ice. Hang on to your

peanuts and homemade 
snacks, we’re not sure when
we’ll ever be back

Sports are also a 
platform, if we don’t speak
it’s our shame. Really.

It is. If we don’t
speak, strike, protest, lobby, march
write, boycott, weigh in

Jackie Robinson
Day will be just another
swing and a big miss.

Get in the game — any game! —this weekend, if you can.

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

Today is Jackie Robinson Day, the annual Major League Baseball commemoration to mark the first day a Black athlete played in the league. The event is typically held on April 15, when all players and coaches honor Robinson by wearing his "42" uniform number. Like so many of our traditions this year, it was pushed back by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I guess you could call it a rain delay,” says Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, speaking by phone from his office in Kansas City, Mo. It's not easy to celebrate anything during a pandemic—and a renewed wave of racial unrest—but it feels good to remember Robinson's legacy. 

Athletes have always had a role to play in lifting spirits and opening minds, which is one of the most valuable legacies of the Negro Leagues, says Kendrick. “The museum makes the case that Black baseball wasn’t just part of the civil rights movement, it was the beginning of the movement,” he adds. Long before Rosa Parks sat down in the wrong part of a public bus, or the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, there were outstanding Black athletes operating in a parallel universe, elevating the communities they served and demanding equal treatment. “Martin Luther King was a sophomore at Morehouse when Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers," Kendrick says.

But the pipeline that made Jackie Robinson possible, also made Black families possible. “Wherever you had successful Black baseball, you had thriving Black economies,” he says. “The story of the Negro Leagues is a story about economic empowerment.”

It's a formula worth reconsidering. Kendrick notes with admiration the efforts of the current crop of professional athletes using their platforms to advocate for justice. Particularly those sports, like professional hockey —and yes, baseball — that don’t have majority Black workforces.

“It’s a show of solidarity that we need right now,” he says. “Society can’t make the big changes unless everyone is in it together.”

The museum began as a one-room office in 1991, founded by former players including John “Buck” O’Neil, who played for the Kansas City Monarchs. It’s now a 10,000 square foot — and growing — testament to the courage it took to fight systemic racism while playing damn good baseball.

“The circumstances that made the need for a Negro League are shameful,” Kendrick says. But the fight to compete and be recognized is not. “The League itself was an all-American impulse. It said, 'my league is just as good as yours.' Some might say even better.”

On Point

How the NBA got back to work  Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports has the inside story of the negotiation that saved the league’s postseason. Other NBA players were surprised when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play Game 5 of their series against the Orlando Magic, in a spontaneous protest over the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. It was not part of an organized plan of action, and the Bucks had planned to forfeit. But other players felt an obligation to support the effort, further compounding the surprise of officials and players. Click through for the ticktock, which includes a series of emotional in-person meetings, Zoom calls, and lots of pointed negotiation with management, all of which hinged on the support of LeBron James.
Yahoo Sports

Marching on Washington, again  In a timely response to President Trump’s long acceptance speech on the White House’s South Lawn, thousands of people began gathering at the Lincoln Memorial for The Commitment March, a modern-day sequel to the 1963 March On Washington. The programming and speeches are distinctly political. “My grandson isn’t going to be marching for the same thing my granddaddy marched for,” said advocate Frank Nitty, who marched 750 miles from Milwaukee to address the crowd. “We’ve got to vote Trump out of office, right?” Organizers, which include Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, are emphasizing safety: to get into the event, everyone will be temperature-checked and must be wearing a mask. Follow along at #MarchOnWashington2020
New York Times

PwC releases its first-ever diversity report Few organizations of its size have done more for the cause of equity and racial reconciliation than the audit giant, which includes a deep dedication to examining its own record on inclusion. The work they put into this report is admirable, and includes data which helps confirm where underrepresented talent is lost or excluded, and what to do about it. Releasing the report is one in a series of commitments the firm as made to increase representation among its ranks, Fortune will be continuing to report on the substantive changes that they’re already making.

On background

Rembering the Chicano Moratorium The Los Angeles Times has published special coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium, a peace march that turned violent. Their lede is so good, I couldn’t bear to touch it: “On Aug. 29, 1970, more than 20,000 demonstrators marched through East Los Angeles for the National Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War. But the protest for peace devolved into conflict between demonstrators and sheriff’s deputies. By day’s end, hundreds were arrested and trailblazing Latino journalist Ruben Salazar was dead.” Did you learn about this in school?
Los Angeles Times


Addressing violent events: Best practices for teachers and parents It’s a nightmarish conundrum. Talk about what’s happened and risk frightening children. Don’t talk about what’s happened and risk normalizing terror, or worse, teaching kids that they can’t talk about difficult or scary things. Facing History, a nonprofit educational and professional development organization has a guide to help you sort out your own feelings on the issue, designed specifically for terroristic violence aimed at people based on their identity. It offers good advice on declaring and maintaining safety in the classroom, a method for unpacking the nature of hate crimes, and a discussion on healthy community responses. One question they recommend for students about media consumption works for everyone else, too: “How can you stay informed about the event while at the same time ensuring that you are taking care of yourself and your peers?”
Facing History

Attack of the (tasteless) racist tomatoes We’ve already explored the racist history of swimming, square dancing,  and prom. So, what gives with the tomatoes? Well, the majority of tomatoes Americans consume are in sauces, ketchup and other products. Those are mostly picked by machine. And a new type of thick-skinned tomatoes had to be bred in order for the fruit to survive the rigors of a mechanical tomato harvester. Now, the harvester was developed not for efficiency, but to rid agriculture of the need to use Mexican farm workers, who had been welcomed into the country into the 1940s to fill the labor gap left by Japanese internment camp detainees, or others serving overseas or in the war effort. In addition to tasteless tomatoes, the desire to excise Mexican workers spawned Operation Wetback, the Eisenhower Administration’s violent mass deportation initiative.


raceAhead is edited by Aric Jenkins.

Today's mood board

Jackie was a legend on AND off the field. #Jackie42 via @MLB