Baseball and integration in sports
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
American sports have a long and storied history of racism and integration. In the early days of organized sports entertainment, basketball was locked into black neighbourhoods—with the exception of the highest professional levels. Hockey was exclusive to the north, and only white people ever made it to the top in any hockey leagues. However, one game helped break those boundaries and showed America that cultural relevance doesn’t need to be tied to race. That sport was baseball, the first truly ‘American’ sport.
Up until the 1940s, baseball had been a strictly segregated game—unofficially—like most sports at the time. White people could participate in games on a national level, while black players were relegated to specific, smaller
‘black’-only leagues. Smaller, local leagues could have black and white players at the same time if they really needed the numbers, but it was unheard of in the big leagues, especially in the Majors (MLB). That is, until two players named Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby were signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cleveland Indians, respectively, in 1947. Robinson is often described as the first player to “break the colour barrier,” proving that black Americans can play on the same level as white Americans. His enormous success and subsequent popularity, along with future wins from Doby, led to more black players being signed. Unknown to the big wigs in the MLB at the time, the ‘black’-only leagues had created a large pool of talented players and dedicated fans over the decades. After Robinson and Doby proved successful, the African-American leagues were scoured for talent by nearly every team.
Baseball is America’s national sport. It was meant as a traditional game for suburban and rural folk. Having two black men play a prominent role in such a culturally-important event was a major factor in the eventual (though slow) degradation of the racial divisions that existed in the sports and entertainment industries. Children across America, regardless of race, could have a black role model in a game that was, at the time, associated so much with patriotism and family. The breaking of the colour barrier in baseball is often described as one of the many events in the mid-20th century that led to the Civil Rights Movement. Jackie Robinson himself became a civil rights activist after his baseball career, and kept pushing for minorities in management roles until his death.