Moses “Fleetwood” Walker becomes first African American baseball player at the University of Michigan
Walker became a businessman, inventor, newspaper editor, and author after leaving Michigan in 1883 to join a professional baseball team in Toledo before graduating. He became the first African American major leaguer when that Toledo team joined the American Association.
George Omachi, Japanese Americans take up baseball in internment camps
Per the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans are placed in internment camps. As part of that executive order, teenager George Omachi and his family are taken by train from their home in California to Jerome War Relocation Center in Denson, Arkansas. After the Omachis arrived in Arkansas, George took part in camp baseball, becoming a player for the Denson All-Stars. “Without baseball, camp life would have been miserable. … It was humiliating, demeaning, being incarcerated in our own country.” He continued to play and coach baseball for several teams at several levels. In 1968, he began scouting in the MLB.
Jackie Robinson becomes the first Black player in Major League Baseball
“I am not concerned with your liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being,” says Robinson, who breaks the MLB color barrier when he takes the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers after executive Branch Rickey signs him to a historic contract. Robinson wins the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and two years he later he’s honored as the league’s Most Valuable Player. Robinson helps the Dodgers win six National League pennants and the 1955 World Series title. In 1962, Robinson becomes a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Satchel Paige becomes first Negro League pitcher in Major League Baseball.
On his 42nd birthday, following an amazing career in the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige made Major League Baseball (MLB) history becoming both the first Negro League pitcher in the American League and the oldest player to debut in the Major Leagues. Paige is one of baseball’s most prolific pitchers; having found success in both the Negro Leagues and MLB, he was also the first African-American pitcher inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Roberto Clemente halts opening day
The Pittsburgh Pirates were scheduled to play the Houston Astros on April 8, 1968, four days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and just one day before his burial. Out of respect, Roberto Clemente refused to play and his teammates also joined in their support to postpone opening day. While initially leaving the decision to each club, MLB Commissioner William Eckert followed suit and postponed all games until April 10th, the day after Dr. King’s burial.
The Detroit Tigers win the World Series a year after the Detroit Uprising
The city of Detroit celebrates the Tigers winning the world series a year after the 12th Street Uprising. On the night the uprising began Detroit Tiger Willie Horton took to the streets in his Tigers uniform to encourage peace.
Curt Flood & the advent of free agency
After the 1969 Major League Baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies, a transaction the seven-time Gold Glover and 12-year major league veteran had no choice but to accept because of MLB’s Reserve Clause, which bound players to their club for as long as the team saw fit and allowed teams to trade or release players on a whim while affording players no freedom of movement. Flood, who had endured racism throughout his career and fought for racial justice off the field during the Civil Rights Movement, refused to play for the Phillies having put down roots in St. Louis, comparing the reserve clause to a form of slavery. On Christmas Eve, he wrote to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn: “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes…I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions.” After Kuhn denied his request, Flood sued Major League Baseball over the reserve clause, but ultimately, a 5-3 Supreme Court ruling in 1972 sided with baseball. Flood paid with his career, sitting out the 1970 season and playing only 13 games in 1971 with the Washington Senators. But his sacrifice opened the door for future players across sports. Inspired by Flood, MLB Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller found two players – the Dodgers’ Andy Messersmith and Orioles’ Dave McNally – willing to play the 1975 season without a contract, and then attacked the reserve clause again, fighting for the player freedom Flood had tried to attain just a few years earlier. Arbitrator Peter Seitz agreed, and his landmark ruling paved the way for collectively bargained free agency as we now know it. “I doubt Curt or anyone – on or off the field in any sport — could fully contemplate the significance of the stance he took back in 1969,” current MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark told USA TODAY in 2019, “but as a child and student of the civil rights movement, Curt had a heightened sense of awareness about justice and fairness. The stand he took affected all athletes who have enjoyed free agency for the last half century.”
Frank Robinson Becomes first African-American manager in MLB
Frank Robinson debuts as first African-American manager in major leagues for the Cleveland Indians.
Little Leaguer Mo’Ne Davis graces cover of Sports Illustrated, joining history of Black women in baseball
On Aug. 15, 2014, Davis becomes a national sensation when she not only becomes the first girl to win a Little League World Series postseason game but does so in dominating fashion, striking out eight over six innings while allowing only two infield hits and no runs. Davis, the 18th girl to play in the LLWS, captivates America with her blazing fastball, setting records for viewership that still stand. Women playing professional baseball dates back to the 1800s, and the first known Black woman to play professionally is Dolly Vardens. From 1910-11, the Black Bronchos from St. Louis play professionally across the country’s heartland. In 1953, the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns become the first professional baseball team to hire a female player, signing Toni Stone in an effort to replace home run king Hank Aaron. Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan join the Clowns two seasons later.
Jessica Mendoza is first woman analyst for MLB postseason game
Mendoza, who is Mexican American and a two-time Olympic medalist in softball, becomes the first woman to serve as an analyst for a MLB postseason game when she calls the Astros vs. Yankees divisional playoff series. Five years later, she becomes the first woman to serve as a game analyst for the World Series on any platform, calling the Dodgers vs. Rays series for radio.
Athletes join protests, help lead movement for racial equity
Two months after Louisville police kill Breonna Taylor and less than a month after video showing Ahmaud Arbery’s murder is publicly released, multiple athletes at all levels of sport take part in nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd. Former Texans coach Bill O’Brien and star player J.J. Watt march in Houston, where Floyd was raised and is eventually laid to rest. The Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drives 15 hours to protest in Atlanta, where the Indiana Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon speaks about his grandfather marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Trae Young also join protests, and Michael Jordan’s Jordan brand announces a 10-year, $100 million donation to organizations fighting racism. Tennis star Coco Gauff, at 16 years old, speaks at a protest in Florida, and college athletes, including the Clemson football team pictured here, lead protests on campus and march through towns. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad marches in Los Angeles, as does Miami Heat assistant Caron Butler. Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and more than 100 other NHL players make statements denouncing racial inequality, acknowledging their privilege and pledging to learn and do better. Tyler Seguin protests in Dallas and Zdeno Chara in Boston, while Jonathan Toews meets with activists in Chicago. MLB players such as Aaron Judge, Dexter Fowler, Bryce Harper and C.C. Sabathia speak out through various platforms. Minnesota Timberwolves stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Josh Okogie help lead protests in Minneapolis and in the coming days the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx host a RISE Critical Conversation with the organization, city mayor and law enforcement to discuss next steps.
NFL’s Washington club announces retirement of racist team name and logo; MLB’s Cleveland club does the same.
Dozens of Native American groups, tribal nations, national tribal organizations, individuals and civil rights group have protested Washington’s 87-year-old team mascot and asked for its removal dating back more than a half-century. Washington owner Dan Snyder said he would never change the logo and team name – a racist slur toward Native Americans – but corporate pressure in 2020 forces him to retire them. Top team sponsor FedEx says it will terminate its stadium naming rights deal, worth an additional $45 million, if Snyder did not change the team name. Other sponsors, including PepsiCo, Nike and Bank of America, make similar demands. Since known as the Washington Football Team, the club on February 2, 2022 officially becomes the Washington Commanders. In 2018, MLB’s Cleveland club, facing similar backlash for its team name and mascot, announces it will retire its “Chief Wahoo” logo for the 2019 season, and in December 2020 says it will change the team’s nickname for the 2022 season. In July 2021, they reveal their new name, the Cleveland Guardians.
Jason Wright, Danita Johnson, Kim Ng and Dany Garcia break barriers across leagues
The Washington Football Team hired Wright, a former NFL running back, as team president, making him the first Black person to hold that position in the NFL’s 100-year history. Wright was named Sports Business Journal’s “Best Hire of 2020.” In December, Johnson became the first Black woman or man to be hired as an MLS team president when D.C. United hired her as president of business operations. She previously was president and COO of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. In November, the Marlins hired Ng as the team’s general manager, making her the first woman to hold that position. Ng was MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations for the past nine years and the highest-ranking Asian American female baseball executive. In August, Garcia became the first woman to own a professional sports league. Garcia, entertainer Dwayne Johnson and a private equity firm puchased the XFL, and Johnson wrote that Garcia was the “architect” behind the deal.
Athletes strike across sports, demanding justice and accountability after police shoot Jacob Blake
On Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a white police officer shot Blake, who is Black, seven times in the back as he opened the door of his car, where his kids were sitting in at the time. After a video of the shooting went public and more shootings occur during local protests, the Milwaukee Bucks, who play about 60 miles from Kenosha, refuse to take the court for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. The team’s statement reads, in part, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” Their opponent, the Orlando Magic, refused to play as well, forgoing a forfeit despite trailing in the series. The NBA would postpone its remaining games that day through Aug. 28. In the WNBA on Aug. 26, the Washington Mystics’ players wore white shirts with a letter each to spell Blake’s name on the front. On the backs were seven bullet holes. Players across teams would kneel and link arms during the national anthem before walking off the court. Elsewhere, the Detroit Lions canceled their practice on Aug. 25 and instead players discussed measures they could take and publicly advocated for change. On Aug. 27., nine other NFL teams canceled football activities, as did multiple college football teams. In MLB on Aug. 26, the Brewers and Reds game was called as players striked, and two games would later be postponed. The NHL postponed its playoff games on Aug. 27 and 28. MLS canceled five games as players walked off the pitch, and Naomi Osaka announced she was skipping her Aug. 26 tennis semifinal in protest.
Mets, Marlins players leave Black Lives Matters shirt on home plate
The New York Mets, led out of the dugout by Black player Dominic Smith, and the Miami Marlins took the field for their Aug. 27 game and moments after the leadoff hitter entered the batter’s box, the teams removed their hats and held a 42-second moment of silence. The players and coaches jointly walked off before a pitch was thrown on the eve of the day MLB would celebrate Jackie Robinson Day. Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson placed a Black Lives Matter T-shirt on home plate in a poignant display as the teams left the field. “The words on the shirt speak for themselves, just having it in the center of everything, just knowing that both teams are unified, and that we agreed to do this,” he said. “And it was the right thing to do.”
Athletes, teams and open sporting venues help set record U.S. voter turnout
Athletes, leagues and organizations make voting and civic engagement one of its top social justice initiatives, and across sports, voter education and registration efforts take place. RISE holds almost 90 voter education and registration sessions for professional teams and collegiate athletics departments leading up to Election Day, and roughly 70 sports venues open their doors as polling sites throughout the process, part of an effort that began years ago that included the work of RISE board members Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and former NFL executive Scott Pioli. Said Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State: “There is no question that seeing the athletes and the leaders in athletics made a huge difference in the enthusiasm.” After the 2020 election, USA Today research indicates nearly 300,000 Americans voted in sports venues that election cycle.
Pitcher Yu Darvish, victim of racist gesture in World Series, speaks out against discrimination
In the spring of 2021, in an article Darvish says of rising anti-Asian racism, “In my opinion, underneath the skin we’re all the same. It doesn’t sit well with me. … [M]any people are suffering from (discrimination).” Darvish joined MLB in 2012 and has pitched in the league ever since. However, Darvish pointed out in an earlier conversation that successful Yankees pitcher and two-time All Star Masahiro Tanaka left MLB to return to play in Japan in part because of rising racism he and his family experienced. Darvish, the son of a Japanese mother and Iranian father, was the victim of a racist gesture during the 2017 World Series. As a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a player on the Houston Astros made an offensive and racist gesture toward Darvish.
Shohei Ohtani accomplishes rare MLB feat last seen 100 years ago
When Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels’ star pitcher and power hitter, takes the mound on April 27, he does so accomplishing something last done in 1921. Ohtani leads MLB in home runs entering the day, and no player has entered a game as the starting pitcher while leading the league in home runs since Babe Ruth. Two years earlier, the flame-throwing pitcher was the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle, and during his 2018 AL Rookie of the Year season, he becomes the first player since Ruth with 50 innings pitched and at least 15 home runs.