Sports and civil change have often worked hand-in-hand, with sports often being either a reflection of the times or a foreshadowing of the social change ahead. So, it makes sense that something I saw at a sporting event would bring about a conversation revolving around such things, and it’s something that has been sort of a theme of my week.
A little more than a week ago, fellow Daily News writer Ty Rushing and I attended the demolition derby in Colfax. It was an interesting experience to say the least, and it was more intense than most sporting events I have been to outside of an Oregon football game.
There was a man to our left with some less than tolerant ink tattooed on his chest and arms, and as Ty and I were walking out of the event, we began to discuss what this person’s problem might have been, as it’s not something we’re accustomed to in the year 2013. Several minutes later, the discussion had snowballed into a talk about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the impact he had on this country. We talked about how he was able to peacefully bring change to a country that so desperately needed it.
I bring this up becausea Wednesday, Aug. 28, was the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. The speech did more than inspire the more than hundred thousand people set to march with King that day. It changed how we look at things as a nation.
For example, ESPN’s Keith Olberman published a story about an interaction he had had with his father recently. His father grew up in the Bronx in the 1940s, and was young enough to remember seeing Satchel Paige pitch for the Black Yankees. He explained that at the age of 12, he marveled at the talent of Paige. He was in awe of his control on the mound and his ability to absolutely dominate a baseball game. However, never once did he think Why doesn’t he pitch for the regular Yankees? He just assumed that Paige had no desire, that black players wanted to have a league separate from white players.
Olberman’s father grew up in a section of New York where racism was basically nonexistent, and it never occurred to him that Paige pitched for the Black Yankees because he wasn’t allowed to pitch for the real Yankees. He said none of this crossed his mind even through the years of Jackie Robinson. The first time he truly realized the level of bigotry that had resonated through the country was on that day in 1963.
Olberman’s story exemplifies just how important this speech was to Americans, as people who grew up in certain parts of the country were somewhat ignorant to what was still a harsh reality for many people, but it also shows how ahead of the curve Major League Baseball was for its time.
Jackie Robinson debuted in 1947, 17 years before the Civil Rights Act took effect and gave equal rights to people of all races. Even the infamously racially divisive Boston Red Sox acquired their first black player in 1959 (Pumpsie Green). The NFL had a tumultuous history with black athletes, with Afro-Americans in and out of the league up until about 1946. The NBA’s color barrier was broken in 1950, and Red Auerbach was the first to draft a black player and rolled out the first all-black lineup for the Boston Celtics in 1964.
Nowadays, we don’t give a second thought to seeing minority players. Arguably the best player in each of these three major sports is a minority. Miguel Cabrera, a Venezuelan, is undoubtedly MLB’s best. Adrian Peterson was the NFL’s MVP last season. And of course, there is the NBA’s LeBron James. Although all these leagues were fairly well integrated by the time Dr. King ad-libbed that historic 12-minute soliloquy in 1963, it was “I have a dream” that put the ball into the endzone, in the basket and over the fence.
If Dr. King were able to see the progress that we have made since his unfortunate assassination, I know he would be pleased with the overall result. Although, he still might have some choice words for our aforementioned friend from the demolition derby.
Sports writer Dustin Turner may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 440, or at email@example.com.