"I Can't Breathe": The Personal is the Political - Part II

In my previous blog, “I Can’t Breathe”:…… – Part I, I addressed how society is more accepting of issues related to professional players’ expressions of their personal and political values today, than it was in my early childhood and adult years. The following examples need reminders to the young and old.

#1:  1964

Muhammed Ali was stripped of his boxing title, after refusing to be drafted during the Vietnam era. He was banned from boxing but did return in 1970.

#2:   1965

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale of the Dodgers nearly held out from pitching, when Walter O’Malley refused to pay them their worth. Koufax told reporters that “Ball players aren’t slaves” and have a “right to negotiate.”

Eventually Drysdale signed for $110,000/ yr., while Koufax accepted $125,000. Arthur Daley of the New York Times called this settlement “Baseball’s first collective bargaining agreement.”

#3:  Summer Olympics 1968

John Carlos and Tommie Smith ran the 200 meter race and placed first and third for the U.S.  During the U.S. National Anthem, they raised their fists on the podium in a “Black Power” salute, and bowed their heads (although Smith refers to this as his “Civil Rights” salute). http://tinyurl.com/k9j6zxu

For this, they were stripped of their medals and removed from the Olympics, by Avery Brundage,   International Olympic Committee (IOC) President. This was the same IOC Brundage, during the 1936 Olympics in Germany, who made no objections to the Nazi salute, being an avid Nazi sympathizer.

How did our media respond then, given this era of  the Vietnam War, civil rights marches, and significant questioning of societal norms ?

Brent Musburger, writing for the Chicago American, wrote “Smith and Carlos looked like a couple of black-skinner storm troopers,” while Time Magazine described their salute as “Uglier, Nastier, and Meaner,” as both received death threats.

They became NFL players; Smith a professor, and Carlos employed for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Carlos further studied, eventually working as a counselor and track coach in Palm Springs. Both received the ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2008.

#4 1969

Curt Flood, who played center field for  St. Louis,  was a 7 time Gold Glove recipient, helping the Cardinals win 2 World Series.  He did not accept a trade to the Phillies.  “I do not regard myself as a piece of property to be bought and sold.”

Baseball had it’s “reserve clause” in place, essentially making the player “team property.”  He was bombarded by hate mail and daily death threats.

Not one active player supported Flood at the time. He took his case to the Supreme Court, testifying how this standard was against various labor laws, with only Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg standing by his side, in “Flood v. Kuhn” (Baseball Commissioner Kuhn).

Years later, Andy Messersmith and Dave McMally , both excellent pitchers, challenged this once again. In 1975 an independent arbitrator, Peter Seitz ruled in favor of the union. They were rewarded for their efforts. Flood was not.  http://tinyurl.com/c84a53t

The owners did not back down, and legally challenged the players’ union. This led to the MLB players’ strike in 1994. Flood was given a standing ovation as he spoke of solidarity to them– 25 years after he first began his cause.

A federal court judge in the Southern District of New York Appellate Court, Sonia Sotomayor, found the owners guilty of violating federal labor laws, and ultimately free agency and arbitration became the law of the land.

However, the fans remained unhappy with both the owners and players, disgusted with the game, calling them “millionaires v. billionaires.” It took several years for fans to return to their stadiums, while others remain unforgiving.

#5 1988

Who could forget Cincinnati Manager, Pete Rose,  shoving home plate umpire, Dave Pallone, causing an uproar in baseball history. At years’ end, after 18 years as an umpire, doing several World Series, Pallone was “outed” and fired for “acts of moral ineptitude” by Commissioner Bart Giamatti. Pallone’s biography of his childhood in Boston,  dreams of becoming an umpire, and the fallout of his sexual orientation, are a “must read” in his “Behind the Mask”.  Several chapters became required reading in my human behavior and clinical practice courses, as a professor.

No one was ready at that time, to accept Pallone being gay, unlike MLB umpire Dale Scott in 2013, who was praised by Bud Selig for his 29 years of outstanding work as an umpire.

Times have changed. Media reports of such issues , have been reported and noted, with no backlash (I assume)  by their employers. Dave Robertson, Jeff Samardzija, and Jon Lester can be paid millions to pitch for the White Sox and Cubs. Yet on this weeks’ Comcast Sports Talk Live, hosted by David Kaplan,  a poll of listeners regarding Derrick Rose’s shirt, resulted in a majority opposing D-Rose’s actions.

Such as it is. Yet with various social media outlets, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TV & written outlets, all forms of comments from hate to acceptance of athlete’s behaviors are now on public forums multiplied by 100, compared to 50 years ago. I watch, listen, and wonder. And TIVO a dozen sports shows, significantly more than my husband recording his one weather channel.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.












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