“You get out of line, we’ll stick it to you, boy.”
In some ways, the plight of Colin Kaepernick is no different than what happened to Curt Flood. Flood was a much heralded center fielder who played 15 seasons in major league baseball for the Cincinnati Reds, the Washington Senators and the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a three-time All-Star and a Gold Glove winner for seven consecutive seasons. He batted over .300 in six seasons and led the National League in hits in 1964.
In 1969, Flood, who was playing for the Cardinals at the time, was informed he was being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood refused to report to the team, citing its poor record, its dilapidated Connie Mack Stadium, and for (what he thought were) belligerent and racist fans.
To get a better view of what Flood was commenting on, you have to go back even further to 1947 during the season Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the modern era. Philadelphia Phillies ownership was opposed to integration in baseball. Their manager at the time was Ben Chapman, a southerner whose racist behavior came out during an early-season series in Brooklyn. The level of verbal abuse directed by Chapman and his players at Robinson reached such proportions that it made headlines in the New York and national press. Chapman also instructed his pitchers, whenever they had a 3–0 count against Robinson, to bean him rather than walk him.
(Scene from the 2013 film, ’42’. Courtesy of Warner Brothers.)
Chapman’s attempts to intimidate Robinson eventually backfired, with the Dodgers rallying behind Robinson, and there was increased sympathy for Robinson in many circles. The backlash against Chapman was so severe that he was asked to pose in a photograph with Robinson as a conciliatory gesture.
This incident prompted Robinson’s teammate Dixie Walker to comment, “I never thought I’d see old Ben eat shit like that.” For over 20 years, the Phillies wallowed at the bottom of the National League with their only pennant in 1950 and a late season collapse in 1964.
Flood was very much aware of past behavior of the Phillies and their management’s poor racial history. Eventually, he challenged Major League Baseball’s decades-old reserve clause, calling it “unfair”, and that it kept players beholden for life to the team with which they originally signed, even when they had satisfied the terms and conditions of those contracts.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn denied Flood’s request for free agency, upon which, his lawyers sued Major League Baseball. Flood sat out the entire 1970 season. During this period, he was bombarded with hate mail from fans, who accused him of trying to destroy baseball. Teammate and hall of fame pitcher Bob Gibson estimated, “He got four or five death threats a day.”
In response to Flood’s stance, the Cardinals sent two minor leaguers to the Phillies in compensation for his refusal to report to the Phillies. In November 1970, Philadelphia traded Flood and four other players to the Washington Senators. He played only 13 games of the 1971 season with Washington (now the Texas Rangers).
Meanwhile, his case took 4 years from the time it was filed to go thru the courts, right up to the US Supreme Court. In a 5-3 vote, justices voted in favor of Major League Baseball upholding the reserve clause. After Flood’s failed lawsuit, he came to the realization that he would be blackballed from baseball.
He commented, “It would be difficult to come back. And besides, I don’t think I’ll be getting the opportunity to play again. As big as it is, baseball is a closely-knit unit. I doubt even one of the 24 men controlling the game would touch me with a 10-foot pole. You can’t buck the Establishment.”
For his part, Curt Flood’s stand led to the 10 & 5 rule in MLB…”no player with 10 years of service, the last five with the same team, can be traded without his consent.”
It’s now week two of the NFL season, and I can think of at least two teams that could use the services of the free agent quarterback right about now. By the time the season is over, there will be more teams that will need the services of Kaepernick. But it’s clearly obvious that the NFL’s owners don’t want to sign him and will do everything within their power not to sign him. One team even went so far as to sign a former arena league player to try out at QB.
The majority of NFL owners are staunchly conservative, using patriotism as a crutch to extend their control over their players. But there’s a bigger picture here, and that is to set Kaepernick as an example so that others will think twice before taking a stand on any issue. 40 years ago it was Curt Flood. Muhammad Ali was also scrutinized for his political beliefs, as well. US Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos also took a stand for holding their fists in a show of justice. We looks back now and realize their cause was right. 40 years from now, we’ll be talking about Colin Kaepernick’s stand against police brutality.
We’ll realize he was right, too.