Tag Archives: Jackie Robinson

A Class Act: Ryan Howard Led Phillies to a Championship While Helping to Heal Team’s Troubled Past with Black Fans

6 Oct

 

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Ryan Howard was one of the most proflic sluggers in Phillies history and was the face of the Phillies five-year playoff run from 2007 to 2011 that included a World Series title in 2008. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report  and  the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Since 2004, I’ve had the pleasure of covering sports in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

Through that experience, I’ve gotten to talk to many of the city’s greats including former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, Phillies MVP shortstop (and World Series champ) Jimmy Rollins, and even newly minted NBA Hall-of-Famer Allen Iverson.

But one of the people I’ve enjoyed covering the most was Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard played his last game with the Phillies last Sunday.

I regret missing the chance to wish him a fond farewell due to other commitments, but I will say that covering Howard and the Phillies during the team’s run to five straight NL East titles, two National League pennants and the run to the 2008 World Series title was probably one of the best experiences of my journalism career.

On the field, Howard’s ability to hit homers and drive in runs was larger than life.  In a game against the New York Yankees during his MVP year in 2006, he drove all seven runs—including two home runs and a triple—in a 9-7 loss to the Yankees.

I remember being in the Yankees locker room where legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was so awed by Howard’s performance that he jokingly told reporters : “We battled back. … We beat Howard.”

The way Howard would carry the Phillies during those championship years almost felt as if he was a one-man wrecking crew, especially during the month of September when it was time for the Phillies needed him to close out the division. He always seemed to hit the key home run hit needed to win a crucial game.

Sure, he wasn’t alone in his efforts. Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley, (now with the Dodgers) outfielder Shane Victorino (who won another World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox)  and Cole Hamels (now pitching for the Texas Rangers) were also crucial parts of those teams.

But if you take away the “Big Piece” I  don’t think the Phillies would have been as successful.

What was memorable about Howard in 2008 was that he still led the league in home runs and RBIs and batted over .300 with runners despite a low batting average and leading the league in strikeouts. Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel used to refer to Howard as a “carrier.”

Off the field, Howard never hesitated to talk to the media whether the Phillies won or lost. He was rarely, if ever, standoffish or surly. Even when he was the in midst of hitting slumps or a bad game, Howard still came back and talked to the media.

He was a class act.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Howard’s success with the Phillies was that between he and Rollins, brought Blacks back to the ballpark. African American fans both young and old back to the ball park.

That was something that former Phillies chairman of the Board Bill Giles told me back  during an interview I did with him back in 2006.

“We’ve had a bad history in the African-American community, going way, way back long before I was around,” Giles said at the time. “To have him be successful is a plus-plus for us. The fact that he’s African-American is helpful because I do see more African-Americans in the stands.”

By becoming the face of the franchise, Howard helped to heal a longstanding rift that existed between the team and the city’s Black fans over how the Phillies had treated Jackie Robinson and Phillies icon Dick Allen.

When I interviewed Allen for the Philadelphia Tribune in 2006 during Howard’s Most Valuable Player run, he talked a little bit about that.

“A lot of the adversity has been cleared from the Jackie Robinson days to the Dick Allen days where those things have subsided and (Howard) can concentrate just doing what he’s doing now,” he said. “It’s almost a healing kind of thing, it happened back then unjustly. But it’s setting a tone where it will make it easier for your grandson or my grandson.

“It got around the world,” Allen continued. “’Oh no, we don’t want to be with the Phillies! Look what they did to over there to this person! Some of them didn’t want to be here.’ That’s the biggest change and the most important change to make players even want to come here. Howard and fellows like that can change all that.”

Allen was right. Two years later, the Phillies were on top of the baseball world thanks to Howard.

Since 2012, it’s been tough to watch Howard go through being injured and  getting old. There were times when he got some undeserved scorn from Phillies fans considering all he’s done for the franchise. I hope he can revive his career with a team that can appreciate what he brings to the table.

I’ll end with a personal Howard memory,

In 2009, I won the Sam Lacy Award from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City for my coverage of the Phillies 2008 World Series run.

In addition to other luminaries like outfielder Curtis Granderson (currently playing for the New York Mets) and Cliff Lee (who pitched for the Phillies), Howard was being honored.

I got the chance to meet Howard and his family. They were all so easy to talk to and he didn’t even mind people asking for pictures with him or autographs.

It’s often rare that “great athlete” and “nice guy” in the same sentence.

We could definitely do that when talking about Ryan Howard.

Good luck “Big Piece”…and thanks for the memories…

 

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His Own Man: Muhammad Ali Versus the Suppression of the Black Athlete

10 Jun

Muhammad Ali: 1942-2016

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Muhammad Ali faced harsh criticism with his membership in the Nation of Islam and his friendship with  Malcolm X.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me — black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”-Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali meant a lot to me as a young, Black man growing up and trying to find himself.

Ali will always be the athlete that I measure all other athletes by both on and off the field because he was willing to risk his career as an athlete by not only joining the Nation of Islam, but also by refusing to be drafted into the military and fighting the Vietnam War due to his religious beliefs.

When Ali died June 3 due to complication from a staph infection, he was lionized, which is easier to do now that it’s safe.

But when Ali was in his heyday, it wasn’t as acceptable to be a fan of his because of he spoke his mind about racism in America and never wavered in his beliefs at a time when it was harshly frowned upon for a Black man to be so outspoken.

Ali’s legacy was about defying the suppression of Black athletes who dare to be their own men and be outspoken about race. His willingness to stand up for his beliefs was part of a historical pattern that has defined the African American experience in sports.

There has always been an outright hatred for Black athletes, male or female, who are outspoken and refuse to define themselves and not through the eyes of white supremacy.

When Ali took on Joe Frazier in 1971 in the fight billed as the Fight of the Century, he was seen as the villain in the eyes of white America because of this outspokenness, while many boxing fans hoped that Frazier, who was less outspoken on racial matters and seen as a good “Christian”, would put Ali in his “place” as the more “American” of the two boxers.

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Ali keeps it real about Vietnam and the treatment of African-American Athletes.

As veteran sports writer Terence Moore pointed out on MSNBC recently, it wasn’t until Ali became stricken with Parkinson’s Disease and was rendered unable to speak, that White Americans opposed to the Ali of the 1960s and the principled stands that he took felt comfortable enough to embrace him.

This attitude on the part of White Americans toward Black athletes goes back to Jack Johnson’s reign as the first Black heavyweight champion of the world. Not only did Johnson destroy the physical notion of white supremacy, his brashness inside and outside the ring offended white American sports fans and frightened some African-Americans who feared reprisals from white people.

Johnson not only beat his white opponents in the ring, he taunted them.  At a time when a Black man could be lynched at the mere accusation of looking at a white woman, Johnson married two and flaunted his relationships in public.

In the book, Bad Nigger: The National Impact of Jack Johnson, Al-Tony Gilmore quoted a white boxer who fought in the early 20th century who said: “Why, if that scoundrel would beat that white boy the niggers would never stop gloating over it and as it is we have enough trouble with them.”

While Johnson didn’t see himself as a race man or an activist, the mere fact that he was his own man and refused to bow down to the harsh restrictions of racial segregation in the early 20th century or to defer white people.

After Johnson lost the title in 1915, it would be another 18 years before a Black fighter would get a shot at the title.  And it had to be someone that was seen as more palatable to them.

For a Joe Louis to get a shot at the title, he was not allowed to raise his hands above a defeated white opponent or even smile after a win. And because of Johnson, Louis was prohibited from publicly being pictured with white women.

Because of Louis’s quiet, unassuming nature he was beloved by whites in a way that Ali or Johnson was not. White fans seemed to be more comfortable when an African-American athlete is quiet or willing to suffer fools gladly.

In Jackie Robinson’s first two years breaking baseball’s color line when he endured all the racist taunts from fans by not fighting back he was seen by the mainstream media as a sympathetic figure. When Robinson was allowed fight back on the field and stand up for himself and Black athletes off the field, the same White media that cheered him as a sympathetic figure vilified him for standing up for himself.

You can make the argument that this hasn’t changed much in America because Black athletes who speak out on social issues face racist hostility and calls for punishment and sanctions, such as in the case of the St. Louis Rams players holding up their hands in solidarity with Michael Brown, an unarmed Black shot to death by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

Being accepted on your own terms as a Black athlete is the legacy that Muhammad Ali leaves behind.

Maybe now that he’s no longer with us, America will, at long last, get used to it.

The Contract That Broke The Color Line

3 Jun

Jackie Robinson’s history making contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers is on display at the National Constitution Center until June 5.

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Jackie Robinson’s Contract on display at the National Constitution Center. Photo by Chris Murray

 

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they did so without taking the rights and freedoms of African-Americans into consideration.

The tumultuous journey of African-Americans from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to the current cries of Black Lives Matter has been about making America live up to the lofty ideals of freedom and equality those documents imply.

When Jackie Robinson signed a contract to play Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, that contract became an influential document not only for sports fans, but also for the nation as a whole.

Even the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King took notice. In a conversation he had with Hall of Famer Don Newcomb, King expressed his appreciation for Robinson’s willingness to lead the charge.

“You’ll never know how easy you and Jackie and (Larry) Doby and Campy (Roy Campanella) made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field,” King said.

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Robinson’s signature on this contract changed the face of sports and American back in 1947. Photo by Chris Murray.

From now until June 5, you can see the original contract that Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the National Constitution Center.

While there are a lot of important documents on display at the Constitution Center, the Robinson contract is equally as compelling as all the others. Robinson’s contract symbolized the first major confrontation with a segregated America and was part of the ongoing battle to make the country live up to it’s ideas of equality and justice.

Robinson’s entry into major league baseball was met with violent hostility both on and off the field. He was spiked by his opponents and jeered by hostile white fans who were offended by the mere presence of African-Americans in what was supposed to be the American game.

In his first two years with the Dodgers, Robinson had to take affronts to his personal dignity for a cause that went beyond the box score. Eight years later, ordinary African-Americans from students to janitors were peacefully sitting in at lunch counters, boycotting segregated public transportation and education facilities.

When you think about it, Robinson striking down baseball’s color barrier preceded President Harry S. Truman’s executive order to integrate the military, Brown versus Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Rides, lunch counter sit-ins, Birmingham movement, the March from Selma to Montgomery and the March on Washington. Dr. King described what Robinson went through:

“A pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”

It’s actually kind of fitting that Robinson’s contract is hanging out here in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia didn’t live up to that name when it came to him. Robinson had to deal with racism and hatred, he couldn’t stay in the same hotels as his teammates, and that’s on top of having to deal with a hostile Phillies squad led by manager Ben Chapman.

Black folks didn’t forget that hostility. An entire generation of African-American baseball fans refused to root for the Phillies even when they started signing Black players to the team and Black players, including free agency pioneer Curt Flood, didn’t want to play here either.

Recently, the Philadelphia City Council issued a resolution apologizing to Robinson and his family for the harsh treatment he received here as a baseball player.

So like the Constitution, Robinson’s contract is a piece of paper that symbolizes how far we’ve come and how far we’ve got to go in race relations in America.

The National Constitution Center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $14.50 for adults, $13 for seniors, students and youngsters 13-18, and $8 for children aged 4-12.

You’re Men and Women, Not the N-word

5 Dec

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zv7Js0HK7s

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

schooldazekfcPHILADELPHIA—One of my favorite scenes in Spike Lee’s School Daze is when the brothers from Mission College, led by Vaughn “Dap”  Dunlap (played by Laurence Fishburne) get into argument with the brothers from the “hood” with their leader, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

In that scene outside of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, Jackson’s character questioned the Blackness of the college kids and said: “College don’t mean shit. Y’all niggas and you gonna be niggas forever, just like us, Niggas.”

And that moment, Dap looks Jackson’s character in the eye and says: “You’re NOT niggas.”

It was a tactical retreat for the college kids and at the same time, Dap restored the dignity and humanity of Jackson’s character and his cohorts. Even as they were telling the Mission kids to get away from them, the brothers from the community were stunned because Dap saw something good in those broken men that they could not see in themselves.

Given all the noise surrounding the gratuitous use of the N-word by a white Miami Dolphins offensive lineman who was considered to be a “brother” by his misguided African-American teammates, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a group that promotes diversity in pro football, recently called for NFL players to stop using the word and for the league to impose a penalty if it’s used during the course of a game.

“Men like Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Bill Willis, and Marion Motley bravely withstood the indignity of the ‘N’ word during a time when black men were beaten and even hung simply because of the color of their skin,” according to a statement released by the Alliance. “Indeed, the ‘N’ word was the last word that countless blacks across the country — in large cities and small towns — heard before being killed in racist attacks. To use it so loosely now is a disgrace.”

And they’re absolutely right.

Quite frankly, I think it is time that we, as African-Americans, stop using the “N” word, under any circumstances. In fact, I think it’s time that we stop using language in our music or any other venue to dehumanize each other—which means you can also stop using terms that denigrate women such as “bitches” and “hoes.”

As the late comedian Richard Pryor so eloquently stated back in the early 1980s, “We never was no niggers. That’s a word to describe our own wretchedness. We perpetuate it. That word is dead because we’re men and women.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hULhZqhw9yU

It was a word that was constantly whipped and beaten into our ancestors by the white slave owners to remind them that they were nothing more than chattel. The N-word was a word that terrorized Black people though lynchings and other acts of violence when Jim Crow laws were imposed on African-Americans in the South.

It was the word that Jackie Robinson heard as he integrated baseball.

It was the word that the Little Rock Nine heard on their way to Central High School.

It was how George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin before he shot and killed him.

The N-word is that constant lie that has given Black people in America the impression that we are inferior because of our skin color. What’s sad to me is that we buy into that lie to the point where white people don’t have to use the word anymore to knock us down—we do it for them.

It’s a word that young Black men utter as they kill each other in places like Chicago and Philadelphia. It’s a word that right-wing politicians use when it supports policies that defund public schools, send jobs overseas and cut programs designed to help poor people.

I do not subscribe to the notion that we have somehow de-fanged the N-word’s by using it in casual conversation or music. There’s nothing affectionate about it. There is no “hood pass” that you should ever give to a White person that allows them to use this word.

And if you’re still tossing it around Black people, you’re subconsciously buying into the white supremacist notion that deems Black as less than human.

Brothers and sisters when you see me in public, I am not your “nigga.” You can call me brother, man, sir, Mr. Murray or Chris if I give you permission.

The best way to lessen the effect of the N-word is to not use it. It is not an accurate description of who we are and yet we continue to use it because we hate ourselves.

To me, the use of the N-word, whether it ends with an “a” or “er” is a lie that imprisons our minds and cuts us off from our humanity. It reminds me of the character Dr. Mannette in Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities.”

As a prisoner in the Bastille, Mannette was beaten and degraded so much that he went insane and forgot that he was a brilliant doctor instead of the shoemaker he was forced to become. That has been the Black experience in America.

And so to repeat what Dap said in School Daze: “You’re not Niggas!”