The Night Al Campanis Shocked the World

On April 6th, 1987, the biggest sports story of the night was supposed to be the highly anticipated boxing matchup between Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel was set to broadcast the fight later in the evening, but needed a story to fill the time before the showdown began. Because it was the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of the MLB, Nightline decided to conduct a tribute to Robinson and his legacy. Among several guests, including Jackie’s widow, Rachel, was Al Campanis, the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and a man who had been a part of Major League Baseball for decades. Prompted by previous comments from Rachel Robinson, in which she had stated that Jackie would have been disappointed in the lack of progress made in the MLB since he first began playing and the racism that still existed in management and front office positions, Ted Koppel decided to ask Campanis what he thought of the issue. Al Campanis opened his mouth, began speaking, and suddenly the Hagler-Leonard fight was the second biggest sports story of the night.

Koppel asked Campanis “to peel it away a little bit. Just tell me, why do you think it is? Is there still that much prejudice in baseball today?”

Then, Campanis answered, “No, I don’t believe it’s prejudice. I truly believe that [African-Americans] may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or perhaps a general manager.”

Al Campanis

Campanis then went on to suggest that there weren’t many African Americans in pitching, catching, or quarterbacking positions because those were more cerebral positions and required a level of thinking that many black players didn’t possess. He also added, quite bizarrely, this philosophy: “Why are black men, or black people, not good swimmers? Because they don’t have the buoyancy.”

Ted Koppel, along with every other viewer tuning in, was quite understandably shocked by Campanis’ remarks. Koppel was so confused, in fact, that he repeatedly tried to help Campanis realize the gravity of his comments and to give him a chance to correct himself. Such efforts were in vain, and Campanis’ statements continued to be racially charged. Koppel went on to ask, “Just as a matter of curiosity, Mr. Campanis, what is the percentage now of black ballplayers, for example, in your franchise?”

Campanis replied, “I would say, I think Roger mentioned the fact that about a third of the players are black. That might be a pretty good number, and deservedly so, because they are outstanding athletes. They are gifted with great musculature and various other things, they’re fleet of foot, and this is why there are a lot of black major league ballplayers. Now, as far as having the background to become club presidents, or presidents of a bank, I don’t know. But I do know when I look at a black ballplayer, I am looking at him physically and whether he has the mental approach to play in the big leagues.”

Al Campnis 2

Unsurprisingly, Al Campanis’ ignorant and utterly insensitive remarks cost him his job in the days following the interview and have since shrouded his name in infamy. What is perhaps most confusing about his comments, however, is the fact that he had never before displayed any racist ideologies and in fact had been involved in promoting African American participation in baseball in previous years. He had even been Jackie Robinson’s teammate and roommate decades prior. Yet, when he made his comments on Nightline, he revealed something that no one wanted to acknowledge at that time: that racism still existed in baseball, and it was disgustingly ugly.

After the interview, Frank Robinson, the first black manager in the MLB, commented by saying, “Baseball has been hiding this ugly prejudice for years—that black aren’t smart enough to be managers or third-base coaches or part of the front office. There’s a belief that they’re fine when it comes to the physical part of the game, but if it involves brains they just can’t handle it. Al Campanis made people finally understand what goes on behind closed doors: that there is racism in baseball.” This attitude ultimately represents the problems many African Americans faced toward the end of the 20th century and the discriminatory beliefs that pervaded athletics even after all sports had been fully integrated- they were eventually considered athletically gifted enough to excel on the court or the field, but ultimately were seen as not smart or intellectual enough to hold a coaching or management position. What’s worse, we unfortunately continue to see these trends today.

It must be stated that Al Campanis was aging (at the time of the interview he was 70 years old) and for whatever reasons may not have been himself during the program. He is even said to have had a tendency to sort of bumble through interviews and mess up his speech and trains of thought. Given his previous work in the MLB, as well as accounts about his actions both before and after the interview, I have to believe that Al Campanis was not a racist or a bigot. In fact, he may have been misunderstood and wrongfully shamed following his appearance on Nightline. That being said, he exposed an underlying way of discriminatory thinking that seemed to exist throughout the MLB, one that continues to characterize the wrongful stereotypes of African American athletes that govern their roles in sports.

Al Campanis was the first person to blatantly state the racist beliefs of the sports world, but there is no denying that the discrimination behind his remarks had existed long before he spoke with Ted Koppel on Nightline. While we have since progressed beyond this ideology, it still continues to exist under the surface of sports at times, but hopefully we will eventually be able to overcome this ignorance through more diversity hirings in coaching and front office positions in all of sports.

 

Works Cited:

Zirin, Dave. “25 Years Since Al Campanis Shocked Baseball: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t | The Nation.” The Nation. The Nation, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.

Weinbaum, William. “The Legacy of Al Campanis.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 01 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.

Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement Through Sports

To begin with, a comprehensive timeline of important dates and moments in sports and the civil rights movement-

* points that are bolded and italicized are those that occurred outside sports

1863- The Emancipation Proclamation is issued

1884- Moses Fleetwood Walker integrates professional baseball

1908- Jack Johnson becomes the 1st black heavyweight-boxing champion

1910- Jack Johnson defends his title and defeats Jim Jeffries, who had been deemed the “Great White Hope”

1919- Fritz Pollard begins pro football, goes on to form first all-black team

1923- Jack Trice, an African American Iowa State football player, is trampled to death on field against Minnesota

1936- Jesse Owens wins 4 gold medals at the Berlin Olympics

1938- Joe Louis defeats Max Schmeling

1947- Jackie Robinson integrates the MLB

1948- Armed forces integrated

1950- NBA integrated

1954- Brown vs. Board of Education dismisses “separate but equal”

1955- Montgomery bus boycott

1957- Althea Gibson wins Wimbledon

1957- the Little Rock Nine integrate Arkansas schools

1963- Martin Luther King Jr. gives his “I Have a Dream Speech”

1963- Mississippi State plays the integrated Loyola University in the NCAA tournament after having previously boycotting the tournament in protest of integration

1964- Civil Rights Act passed

1966- Muhammad Ali claims exemption from the Vietnam draft

1966- Bill Russell becomes first black NBA head coach

1966- Texas Western defeats all-white Kentucky in the NCAA basketball championship game with an all-black starting five

1967- Perry Wallace integrates SEC basketball

1968- Tommie Smith and John Carlos launch black power salute at the Mexico City Olympics

1970- USC defeats Alabama behind Sam Cunningham’s amazing game; the next year Alabama integrates its football team

1975- Frank Robinson becomes 1st black MLB manager

1975- Arthur Ashe wins Wimbledon

1989- Art Shell becomes the 1st black head coach in the NFL since Fritz Pollard

2008- Barack Obama becomes the first African American president of the United States

The Results Are In!

One of the goals of my project is to educate my peers on the full extent of the civil rights movement, particularly its place in sports. Because of this, I recently conducted a survey across grades 9 through 12 at Ashley Hall in order to gauge students’ awareness of key African American athletes from the past century. To be perfectly frank, the results were quite shocking.

The five athletes I chose were Tommie Smith, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and Arthur Ashe. I wanted to pick some figures who should be relatively well known, such as Robinson and Ashe, and others who might be less recognized, such as Tommie Smith. I then asked if the student had heard of the person, and if so, if they could identify what that person did. Shockingly, some students were unable to identify a single person on this sheet. It looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me.

To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed in our students. I expected nearly everyone to be able to identify Jackie Robinson as the first African American baseball player in the major leagues. In the end, only 61% of students knew what he did, and a majority of these merely said that he was a baseball player and made no mention of his history altering achievement as the first black man in the MLB. Additionally, Arthur Ashe, who was a huge human rights and social activist and for whom the largest tennis stadium in the world is named after, had only been heard of by 8 people, 4 of whom could correctly state that he had been a tennis player.

Not a single person had heard of Tommie Smith, who launched one of the most famous civil rights protests of the 60s, and only one person was able to recognize Joe Louis as a boxer. Similarly, Jesse Owens, one of the greatest Olympians of all time and a groundbreaker for African American rights in our country, was only identified by 5.5% of students, nearly all of whom merely stated that he was a runner.

Overall, I am quite appalled at these figures. Clearly, our students are unaware of some of the greatest athletes and civil rights activists in history. Hopefully throughout the year I will be able to use my project to remedy this problem and educate my peers on the true nature of the civil rights movement.

Here are the percentages from the study:

Tommie Smith:

0% of students had heard of him

0% of students knew what he did

Jesse Owens:

26.7% of students had heard of him

5.5% of students knew what he did*

*The typical response I received was that he was a runner. While this is extremely unspecific, I counted it amongst those who could identify what he did

Jackie Robinson:

81.5% of students had heard of him

61% of students knew what he did*

*The typical response I received was that he was a baseball player, and only very few students specified that he was the 1st African American in the MLB. I counted the students who only said he was in baseball amongst those who could identify what he did

Joe Louis:

3.4% of students had heard of him

.6% of students knew what he did

Arthur Ashe:

5.4% of students had heard of him

2.7% of students knew what he did

 

 

 

Moses Fleetwood Walker: The Other Man Who Integrated Baseball

Moses Fleetwood Walker. Ever heard of him? Of course not. But believe it or not, Moses Walker was a black man who played baseball in the majors more than sixty years before Jackie Robinson first stepped on the field as a Brooklyn Dodger. In fact, he was the first black man to play major baseball. Despite this, however, no one knows his story. Sadly, his tale of courage and valor has been lost in the passage of time, yet it is important to remember that he was a man who overcame racial barriers and helped African Americans take one more small step toward equality.

Moses Walker first made a mark in baseball in 1882 when he was in college at the University of Michigan, enjoying a successful career as a Wolverine and emerging as one of the team’s stars. Following his days at Michigan, Walker then went on to sign with a minor league baseball team, the Toledo Blue Stockings. It was there that he first confronted the many obstacles he would have to overcome during his career as an African American in the game of baseball. One of the stars of the day, Cap Anson, refused to take the field against the Blue Stockings if Walker played in the starting lineup. Although Anson ultimately gave in and played in the game, this proved an example of the discriminatory racial attitudes toward Walker at the time.

Walker continued to play catcher for the Blue Stockings throughout the 1883 season, although this was only a minor league team. It wasn’t until the next year, in 1884, that he would truly get his chance in the majors. During that year, a new professional baseball league, the American Association (which would later become the modern day American League) was created in order to compete with the other dominant league, the National League. During the Association’s formation, the Toledo Blue Stockings were added to the league, and thus became a major team. Because of this, Moses Fleetwood Walker officially became the first black man to play professional baseball on May 1st, 1884, in Toledo’s opening game against the Louisville Eclipse.

Unfortunately, this landmark achievement was not appreciated by other players and fans. Throughout the game, Walker was the victim of racial slurs and death threats. His team’s pitcher, Tony Mullane, admitted that while he believed that Walker was a great catcher, he would intentionally pitch without looking at Walker’s signals because he disliked playing with an African American (this is a practice that is extremely dangerous for catchers, especially at this time when they played without helmets or pads, because they do not know where the pitch is going and can thus be hit by the ball very easily). Often times throughout the year, Walker would be too hurt to play after being struck by a ball in a previous game. This essentially characterized Walker’s short career in the major leagues, as neither his fellow teammates nor opposing players respected him or treated him well throughout the season, despite the fact that he proved himself a solid player who batted extremely well before his year was cut short with a season ending injury.

In 1885, the Toledo Blue Stockings dissolved, sending Walker back down to the minor leagues, where he continued to play for several seasons. Although he attempted to return to the majors, this was ultimately prevented when the American Association and the National League unofficially banned black players, reestablishing the color barrier that would remain intact until Jackie Robinson began playing in 1947.

Although he only played one season of major league baseball, Moses Fleetwood Walker was a man who display immense courage and sacrifice when he became the first African American to play baseball in the major leagues. The discrimination and oppression he faced throughout the year due to his race exemplifies the struggles other African Americans would face for years to come, both in sports and in society. Ultimately, he must be remembered as a trail blazer who overcame obstacles and challenges to create better opportunities for other blacks of the time.

Works Cited:

Regan, Barry. “Moses Fleetwood Walker: The Forgotten Man Who Actually Integrated Baseball.” Bleacher Report. Turner Sports Digital, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2012. <http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1147947-moses-fleetwood-walker-the-forgotten-man-who-actually-integrated-baseball>.

“JockBio: Moses Fleetwood Walker Biography.” JockBio: Moses Fleetwood Walker Biography. Black Book Partners, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jockbio.com/Classic/Walker/Walker_bio.html>.

Branch Rickey: How He Integrated Baseball

As we all know, Jackie Robinson was the player who shattered racial barriers when he integrated baseball in 1947. But before he could swing a bat in the major leagues, or even step onto the field for that matter, he had to be signed by someone who believed in equality, who believed that it wasn’t right for America’s sport to be divided by the color of its players’ skin. This man was Branch Rickey, an executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers who initiated the “Noble Experiment” of integration.

In a 1956 speech to the “One Hundred Percent Wrong Club” in Atlanta, about 9 years after Jackie Robinson began playing in the MLB, Rickey discussed his decision to end segregation in baseball and the factors he found necessary to achieve this, as well as the obstacles he faced along the way. The first of these hurdles was ownership. In order to sign a black player, Rickey knew that he needed to find an owner sympathetic to his cause to allow integration to occur. In the end, he found that owner: himself.

Once he became part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rickey was able to move on to the next task: finding the right player to break baseball’s color barrier. This person had to not only be a great player, but a great man as well. Rickey spent extensive time and effort scouting the Negro Leagues for one such player. While there were plenty of outstanding black athletes, Rickey needed someone who would be able to endure the discrimination and prejudice he would face as the first black major league player, someone who would not lose his temper or his cool while facing nearly insurmountable obstacles. He wanted “a man of exceptional intelligence, a man who was able to grasp and control the responsibilities of himself to his race and could carry that load.” This man would have to represent his entire race on sport’s biggest stage, and if he failed, the Great Experiment would be destroyed; indeed, integration itself would likely be postponed for another decade. Branch Rickey went looking for a hero, and what he found was Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson was everything Rickey needed and more. Once he found his man, Rickey confronted the next obstacle, feasibility. This included organizing “public relations, transportation, housing, accommodations” etc. These logistics proved extremely difficult in 1940’s segregated America. Countless times, hotels would not accommodate the team or a restaurant would refuse to serve them, and the Brooklyn Dodgers would move on to the next place that would. Ultimately, though, these obstacles did little to deter Rickey from achieving his goal of integrating the MLB.

Rickey was also worried about the reaction of the African American population itself. He knew that such a groundbreaking change would prompt African Americans to almost overdo their celebration of Jackie Robinson and integration, thus furthering the separation between races that Rickey was trying to overcome. He didn’t want celebratory dinners or mass attendances; he didn’t want Jackie Robinson to be an anomaly. He wanted Jackie to be a professional baseball player, just like everyone else in the MLB, whether he be white or black or purple or green. He wanted Jackie to be judged by the power of his swing, not the color of his skin, and he wanted this to apply to both the black and white population of America.

Lastly, the final obstacle that Branch Rickey had to overcome was one that he had very little control over: the reaction of his fellow players on the Brooklyn Dodgers team. In the end, this proved to be a very small problem. Although it was a gradual change, Jackie Robinson’s teammates accepted him in the locker room. Was everyone his best friend? Of course not, but that would have been the case as well had he been white like every other player. But they supported him and respected him, and ultimately, that’s all Branch Rickey could have asked for.

Branch Rickey had a mission. He wanted to integrate baseball, to bring about the equality and acceptance that America was founded upon. He was, in his own words, “completely color-blind”. And, like every man with a mission, he also had a plan. He followed this plan, stuck to it as he dodged blows and jumped hurdles and overcame obstacles, and, against all odds, his Great Experiment worked. Jackie Robinson integrated baseball, and the whole country became a little more color-blind. Just like Branch Rickey himself.

 

Works Cited:

Rickey, Branch. “Speech by Branch Rickey for the “One Hundred Percent Wrong Club” Banquet.” Speech. “The One Hundred Percent Wrong Club” Banquet. Atlanta. 20 Jan. 1956. The Library Of Congress: American Memory. The Library Of Congress. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.

Meet… Frank Robinson

“I always tried to do the best. I knew I couldn’t always be the best, but I tried to be.”

When most people think of groundbreaking African Americans in baseball, the first name that comes to their minds is Jackie Robinson. But what about the other Robinson? What about Frank Robinson, the first African American to serve as manager of a major league team? A pioneering player and manager, Robinson was a man who paved the way for African Americans and other minorities in coaching and managing positions in Major League Baseball, changing the face of baseball for years to come in a manner similar to Jackie Robinson himself.

Before making history as an MLB manager, Robinson first had a stellar playing career that landed him in the Hall of Fame. He was a six time all-star selection and became the only player ever to win the MVP award in both the National and American leagues. He also won the elusive Triple Crown (leading the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs), as well as the World Series MVP when his Baltimore Orioles won the World Series in 1966. Such accomplishments have landed Frank Robinson among the all-time greats of baseball and made him into a playing legend.

Yet, despite this, perhaps his most lasting achievements came not at the plate, but in the dugout. This occurred in 1975, when Frank Robinson was hired by the Cleveland Indians and became the first black manager in Major League Baseball history. Not only was he the manager of the Indians, however, but he also served as a player during his first two years coaching. In a game that has since seen many black players, but few black managers, Robinson’s achievement stands out as instrumental in breaking the barrier of managerial and coaching positions for African Americans. The influence of Frank Robinson extends not only to baseball, but to all sports. He helped America take strides toward racial equality, and proved that blacks could stand as leaders. In a country that today has an African American president, we might forget that circumstances weren’t always this equal.

Frank Robinson blazed a trail for many African American managers to come, among them Cito Gaston, Dusty Baker, Ron Washington, and others. He also laid the foundation for other minorities in the sport of baseball, most notably Hispanic and South American. Manny Acta, the former manager of the Cleveland Indians, credits Robinson and fellow Venezuelan manager Felipe Alou for breaking barriers and making a place for himself in the game of baseball. Ultimately, Frank Robinson left baseball as an outstanding Hall of Fame player with multiple honors and records to his name. In the end, however, the title of baseball’s first black manager may be the most groundbreaking one of all.

 

Works Cited:

Bastian, Jordan. “Robinson Powerful Force As Player-Manager.” Indians.com. MLB, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 4 Oct. 2012.