Back in late 2016, the NFL witnessed and then divided over the kneeling of then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. His reason was to bring attention and stand by those who are oppressed by our current system. Today, he has been making headlines again as more and more sports figures come out with their own statements and realizations.
I thought to myself at that point, what is the history of racial integration in sports and when did P.O.Cs start being allowed in different leagues.
Many of you know of Jackie Robinson in the MLB; he was as much a Dodger as he was one of the first social activists in sports. Having fought segregation throughout the years, he opened the doors to many in the major leagues. Yet, another figure came before him that has been forgotten in time. That man is Moses Fleetwood Walker, 63 years before Jack Robinson broke the color barrier in the 20th century.
Walker was a scholar, businessman, and newspaper publisher. Ultimately, he was defeated by segregation and left after only a season due to injuries and death threats received—even from his fellow players. Other teams did not want to play with any group that had a black man in it. But, apparently he was preceded by another black man in 1879. A slave by the name of William Edward White, ironically enough, who lasted even less time than he. This is the period that MLB wishes to leave forgotten in the dust.
Do you know Kenny Washington? Probably not and I don’t blame you. A UCLA student in 1939, he was the first to shatter the color barrier in the NFL back in 1946 following pressure from newspapers and the commission of the stadium to be more diverse and inclusive. It’s not that he was a bad player; go look at the record—it’s incredible! No, it’s that all 10 leagues at the time had an unspoken rule that said no colored people allowed. The first team? The Rams, who had relocated to L.A. at the time. This man opened the doors for everyone else after, including Kaepernick. A man who had to endure physical attacks and racism on and off the gridiron. We have him to thank for all those great players that made us lose our heads throughout the years.
You look at the NHL and the story is a bit different here. Hockey is a sport for the caucasian middle class that we simply cannot afford to enjoy. Still, though, more people have started to join thanks to the sport being made affordable to a lot of lower-income communities through multiple funding and programs. We actually have an African-Canadian hailing from Nova-Scotia to thank for paving the way for all of us in the early 20th century. 1958, to be precise, with the Boston Bruins and he went on to play for 45 career games. For two decades and more he has been advocating for the sport to become more accessible to the youth. In a recent interview, he stated the fact that even today a lot of the up-and-coming colored players faced racism and bullying on their own. He wishes for that to change, for that discriminatory relationship to end once and for all.
I can say, personally, that I fell in love with the energy of hockey when I first played as a teenage boy. Actually, that’s a lie… I fell in love with hockey as a boy, sitting in the living room in front of an old blocky wood panelled T.V. cheering for the Islanders, Rangers, Habs and Canucks.
Let’s hope that current events will push more players, trainers and managers to bring about change in all aspects of all leagues because obviously we still have a lot of work to do to become acceptant of all differences. Whether we like it or not, the very sports that bring us together have been divided in their own ranks. Hopefully, the next ones to speak and work for change will not be pushed out and silenced but rather accepted, welcomed and appreciated.