| 03.17.2018

Race, religion and sports


Two former MLB All-Stars to visit Moscow

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball as the first African-American to play an MLB game April 15, 1947.

Two former MLB All-Stars will be in Moscow, exactly 68 years later to the day, to speak about their experiences with race and religion in sports in the years after Robinson broke the color barrier.

“I think it would be great for the university and the community to hear the perspectives from actual players at the time and see what we can take from all the great lessons of what they had to endure at the time,” said Michael Park, a faculty member from the University of Idaho School of Journalism and Mass Media.

Park will mediate a discussion panel 7 p.m. Wednesday in the 1912 Center on Third Street. He will be joined by former MLB stars Vernon Law and James “Mudcat” Grant, along with Dan Durbin, a sports communication scholar from the Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society at the University of Southern California.

Park said the discussion is part of a project led by Durbin in which he is recording and archiving the oral histories of many of the players in the 25 years following Robinson’s integration.

“He’s really kind of spearheaded this historical project in documenting and chronicling African-American baseball players’ contributions and what they had to endure on and off the field,” Park said.

Law, originally from Meridian, Idaho, played 16 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 50s and 60s, and was a Cy Young award winner and World Series champion in 1960. Law is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. Park said Law was open about his religion as a Mormon and endured much of the same type of discrimination African-Americans did at the time.

One of President John F. Kennedy’s favorite players, Grant is recognized as the first African-American pitcher to win 20 gamesin one season. He played for many different teams between 1958 and 1971, including the Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was with the Twins when they won the World Series in 1965.

Park said after his playing days,Grant wanted to tell the stories of early African-American MLB players, so he became an author and a historian. Grant’s book, “The Black Aces: Baseball’s Only African-American Twenty Game Winners,” was published in 2006.

Park said the book chronicles a lot of the early African-American major league pitchers and their contributions, but also what they endured on and off the field, just as Jackie Robinson did.

Park is teaching a class at UI this semester on sports and media, as much of his interest and area of research lies in sports in media, as well as identity, race and masculinity in sports.

“I think it’s just a wonderful area to examine from a scholarly standpoint and see how these issues play out,” he said. “And often times, I think it’s great to see sports as an agent of change, but also in some ways reflecting the status quo and reflecting the dominant values in our society.”

Park earned his doctorate at USC and said he worked closely with Durbin. He said it is becoming increasingly important to get the stories from these players as they are getting older, and their stories need to be told and heard.

Even though Jackie Robinson was the first to integrate, Park said it is important to remember integration doesn’t happen overnight.

“It’s a slow gradual change to continue being vigilant with instances of discrimination both on and off the field,” Park said. “It’s not like other players that came in after (Robinson) didn’t face, or had to endure, racial epithets or religious rhetoric.”

Mary Malone can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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