KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas City may not have an NBA team, but the city’s sports history and the museum built to commemorate it give Kansas City a unique perspective on LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments about African Americans and his historic punishment by the league on Tuesday.
Kansas City was the home of Jackie Robinson, star of the Negro leagues Kansas City Monarchs, before he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 and forever changed how the nation talked about race and sports.
“During that era of the negro leagues you learned about me based on what somebody told you,” explains Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museuem in Kansas City. “But when Jackie Robinson walks into that dugout with the Brooklyn Dodgers, they found out they weren't true.”
Kendrick said black fans-- and their money-- followed Robinson to Brooklyn, leading other owners of then all-white franchises to hire black players themselves. In the same vein, he said Tuesday, sponsors and fans racing to abandon the Clippers following publication of a racist rant by owner Donald Sterling, forced the NBA to act decisively.
“The NBA had no choice but to act swiftly, and in this case, extremely severe in handling this situation,” Kendrick said, “particularly when your workforce is some 90 percent African American.”
Even before Robinson broke the color barrier, sports have forced important, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations about race on the American public.
“Sports has united us unlike any other mechanism in our society,” Kendrick said. “Whether it was Joe Lewis or whether it was Jessie Owens in 1936 or Jackie Robinson in 1947. It has been that one common bond that has unified us.”