Jackie Robinson and the Demise of Segregated Sports

This is FREE sample
This text is free, available online and used for guidance and inspiration. Need a 100% unique paper? Order a custom essay.
  • Any subject
  • Within the deadline
  • Without paying in advance
Get custom essay

At the dawn of professional sports in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, every player on the field looked the same. They came from relatively similar backgrounds and upbringings and cultures, and they happened to all be white. It wasn’t that African Americans didn’t play these sports- they did and many of them were really good- but there was some unwritten rule going back to the 1890’s that kept African Americans from playing on the same pro teams as white players (Waggoner, n.d.).

In baseball, this forced them to play on separate Negro Leagues for many years at the beginning of the sport’s professional history. The segregation and abuse of colored athletes in sports during this time was the popular method of thinking and now represents a truly unconscionable and dark period in our national sports history. However, several key players, like Jackie Robinson, played with unwavering strength and resilience to forge an incredible breakthrough into baseball and other sports, changing their respective games forever.

Baseball was born and sculpted in the 1830’s and 40’s and by the mid nineteenth century, there were plenty of amateur players and teams competing for championships in the sport that had already coined the term “national pastime of America”. But at this time, since America was very diverse and black baseball players were not allowed to play with white players, professional baseball was really only the national pastime for white America. Initially at the recreational level, players of all colors were allowed on the same teams. That didn’t last long as black players were soon banned by the National Association of Baseball Players. The next year, baseball became a professional sport and there was no written rule keeping blacks from playing, but they were increasingly excluded, and this separation lasted for several decades.

The first professional league with 10 teams was created in 1871 and was called the National Association of Professional Baseball Players (NA) but due to a poor business model, was overrun by the eight-team National League of Professional Baseball Club in 1876. The NL had a much better plan and implemented rules to promote a positive public image, including playing no baseball on Sundays and selling no alcohol, which allowed it to enjoy more successes than the NA. It also had no “room” for black ball players. By 1901 several mergers had occurred until finally there was an American league and a National League, and they would play each other in what would be known as the World Series.

The first Negro professional league was founded in 1920 by Rube Foster, “The Father of Black Baseball”, and three years later Ed Bolden created the Eastern Colored League for the Negro National League to compete with. Several other leagues came into creation when other leagues failed financially, and they even became quite prosperous during the second World War when rich black folk with good defense jobs payed to fill the stands. African Americans finally had their own pastime as their leagues competed in their own World Series and All-Star Game until the color line was officially crossed and baseball became reintegrated at last.

A prominent sports figure later on in his life, Jackie Robinson faced countless acts of racism and prejudicial acts growing up. While at a junior college in 1938 he faced an arrest after protesting the detention by police of one of his black friends. Later on, after he had enlisted in the army, he faced a situation in which he had boarded a bus that was non-segregated and was asked to move to the back. When he refused, he was taken into custody and then was later acquitted. His hatred for discrimination burned deep and his natural instinct to defend and stand up for himself often got him into hot water. But this was who he was at his core and improper treatment based on race stirred him into action.

These events in his life foreshadowed the types of abuses he would soon incur as an athlete in a world in which white people automatically thought they were superior and insisted upon remaining separate. Like many gifted and qualified baseball players before him, Robinson joined the professional Negro leagues in 1945 as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs. He played extremely well there recording a league high .349 batting average and had 40 stolen bases. His play did, however, allow him to draw attention from Branch Rickey, the manager of the all-white Brooklyn Dodgers.

The manager was clearly interested in the prowess that Jackie showed on the diamond but had several concerns that could limit him from picking up the African American athlete. Given Jackie’s littered past of issues surrounding racial inequality, he questioned whether Jackie could maintain his poise when faced with the inevitable oppression and degrading treatment that he was certain to face on such a big stage. Robinson promised that he could and soon signed with the team’s top minor league- the Montreal Royals. After a single season of play at the lower level, Robinson was moved up and signed (for the minimum of $5000 per month) to the majors. This would be where his strength to endure foul treatment would truly be tested. It also provided a huge opportunity for him as a professional athlete to use his status and position to make a difference for African Americans in a heavily segregated United States.

On April 15, 1947 at the age of 28, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to break through the “color” barrier as the starting first baseman. His status as a player brought more African American attention to major league baseball and ultimately more revenue as there were now multiple races represented. As expected, though, Jackie received plenty of harsh treatment, a lot of which stemmed from his teammates. It was such a deeply ingrained value in the US that even teammates could not look past the color of a person’s skin to treat them with basic human respect.

Several teammates even threatened to stop playing if Jackie Robinson was playing, but general manager Branch Rickey invited them to leave as he stood solidly with Jackie. The more that Jackie played, the more he showed his ability to be not only an athletic player, but also a smart player- he set a league record by stealing home base 19 times in his career. The more that he played- and played well- the more white fans began to come to terms with and accept an African American in the pros, because as it turns out, there was nothing wrong with being an African American. Other teams even had players that threatened not to play against him, but their coaches dismissed their threats and they played anyways. That didn’t mean that Jackie’s transition was easy, or that any other African American players would have an easy time, but Jackie’s entrance to the big leagues was the start of change.

During games, and especially in his nightmarish first season, Jackie’s mental strength was often tested when he was physically or verbally abused by opposing players and fans. In one instance, he was cleated and suffered a large gash on his leg and many other times a storm of racial slurs and insults would rain down on him. He was spit on, pitched at, and threatened, but for the Dodgers, the cruel treatment of one of their own only brought them closer together. In one particularly tough game for Jackie, his shortstop and teammate Pee Wee Reese pulled Jackie close and put his arm around him, putting on display his understanding and support for all to see.

That season, Jackie garnered the award Rookie of the Year and that was just the beginning of his career, but it also marked the beginning of the careers of many other black baseball major leaguers. Two years later behind the bat and legs of Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers won the 1949 National League pennant and by 1955 the Dodgers achieved the ultimate and crowning achievement of becoming World Series champions. Throughout his career, Jackie’s confidence and comfort grew and he felt more and more comfortable pushing for fair treatment. He would argue calls and became lively with teammates and opposing teams which showed just how much he wanted things to change and that he was willing to push that change into motion. Jackie Robinson not only changed the game physically- by influencing players to run the bases more aggressively, but later became a major figure for people to rally around during the Civil Rights movement.

After Jackie Robinson’s career, the doors were thrown wide open for the likes of the other major sports to begin accepting athletes of all colors. Three months following Jackie’s debut, Larry Dobby made his first appearance as the first African American to play in the American League and then later became the first black player to play on a winning World Series team in 1948. The 1950-51 season marked the desegregation point for the NBA as Chuck Cooper became the first black player to be drafted and in 1946 (slightly before the Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball), former UCLA football star Kenny Washington signed with the Los Angeles Rams.

While Kenny’s appearance in professional football was no less of an achievement for African Americans and America, pro football at this time was not nearly as popular or important to the economy. That’s why Jackie is truly regarded as the first African American to play a sport professionally because of the grand stage that professional baseball was on and how he used it to its full potential as a platform for racial equality.

With Jackie Robinson at the helm, these athletes and many others paved the way for true progress to be made in racial equality. They battled the very popular mentality that whites and blacks should remain separate and that they should never compete against each other as blacks were “dumber” and more “criminally inclined”.

Instead they persisted in times where they had very little support or light at the end of the so-called tunnel and proved that they deserved each and every opportunity that a white person was entitled. They allowed the sports world to evolve and become representative of all the dynamic cultures and races that make up the United States of America. It was slow and painful going, but these pioneering athletes set the pace for the sports world that many of us (myself included) follow and enjoy as a large aspect of our popular culture today.

Cite this paper

Jackie Robinson and the Demise of Segregated Sports. (2021, Nov 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/jackie-robinson-and-the-demise-of-segregated-sports/

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Peter is on the line!

Don't settle for a cookie-cutter essay. Receive a tailored piece that meets your specific needs and requirements.

Check it out