When it comes to sports there are two issues, in two different sports, that really get my blood boiling. With football, it is the fact that the Washington Redskins refuse to jettison their racist/anti-Native American name despite the continuous requests and protests of Native Americans and their allies.
When it comes to baseball, for me it is all about Curt Flood. It is about the fact that this late, former outstanding player for the St. Louis Cardinals has been denied entry into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, largely because he took a courageous stand that ultimately brought about a dramatic change in Major League Baseball.
Major League baseball was once dominated by a system known as the "reserve clause." Simply put it was a form of indentured servitude in which a player was locked into a perpetual deal with a specific team for as long as the owners of the team wanted. A player could be traded irrespective of their wishes, and many a player suffered under this system.
In the 1960s, influenced by the Black Freedom Movement and the courage of his mentor Jackie Robinson, Curt Flood took a public stand against the reserve clause, refusing to be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. As detailed in Brad Snyder's powerful book on the subject— "A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports" —Flood was warned by many people, including members of the Major League Baseball Players Association, that bringing a lawsuit challenging the reserve clause was an entirely uphill battle. Flood was prepared to take the risk, and with the support of the Baseball Players Association, a major lawsuit was launched.
Though the suit itself failed, it set in motion a series of events that led to the demise of the reserve clause within a few short years. The consequences for Flood, however, were dramatic. He was, for all intents and purposes, driven from Major League Baseball, and though he briefly returned, was unable to regain the traction and prominence he once held. The life of this exceptional baseball player was, for many years, crushed.
Flood had been prepared to take the risks, though he probably did not anticipate the extent of the dangers involved. Nevertheless, he understood that the reserve clause system was fundamentally unjust and had to be overturned.
As an African-American his struggle brought together the fights for racial justice and for the rights of all baseball players. Unfortunately, so many players at that time were intimidated by the owners of the baseball teams that Flood found himself all too often alone, despite the continuing support he received from the players association.
While Jackie Robinson is, correctly, remembered for breaking the color line, even in Major League Baseball today the name of Curt Flood is barely remembered, let alone heralded. His courage helped to destroy a system that kept the players under the thumbs of the owners and made it possible for only a few (and mainly White) players to ever achieve compensation that corresponded to their talents.
Instead of being recognized for his courage, commitment and baseball talent, those guarding the gates to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame have chosen to block the entrance of Flood. Few people have raised their voices in protest. Instead of righting a clear wrong, the baseball team owners and their sycophants in the sports media world would prefer that the memory of this audacious action fade into oblivion.
Curt Flood passed away 11 years ago. Getting him into the Hall of Fame is not about one person. It is about setting the historical record straight. It is clear that this will not happen unless there are demands from those of us who love baseball, but love justice even more.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies.