• Denver Indian Center, Inc

A few words from our Co-Executive Director, Rick Waters

The “color barrier” If you’re a baseball fan, or if you watched any professional baseball game on Monday, April 15th, you may have noticed that every player was wearing the jersey number 42. This was in honor of Jackie Robinson who played in his first Major League Baseball game on April 15, 1947, and thus, breaking the so-called “color barrier” in professional baseball. It was also recognition that I personally feel is somewhat misrepresented. Yes, I agree that he was an outstanding athlete and baseball player and that he helped the Dodgers win the World Series. What I do not agree with is that he broke through the “color barrier” for professional baseball. I realize I may be playing with semantics, but as an American Indian and person of color, I would correct the statement to say, Jackie Robinson broke the black/white barrier and was the first African American or Black person to officially play Major League Baseball… On April 22, 1897, Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian from Maine became the first American Indian to play professional baseball when he started for the National League Cleveland Spiders. In my humble opinion, this is when the “color barrier” of Major League Professional baseball was actually broken. Much like Jackie Robinson, it is also reported that during Sockalexis’ short baseball career, he too faced racial taunts and slurs from opposing players and teams much like what Robinson endured. Once again, American Indians have been overlooked for their contribution to American history and to a degree, minimized as to their importance in shaping history. However, in recognition of his accomplishments, Louis Sockalexis is enshrined in the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. It also seems Alex came from an athletic family because his cousin, Andrew Sockalexis finished second in the 1912 and 1913 Boston Marathons and finished second in the marathon during the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. So, the next time you hear the conversation around the topic of Jackie Robinson, just remember to mention that Louis Sockalexis actually broke the “color barrier”… While I’m on the topic of American Indians in sport, did you know that in 1973, President Richard Nixon proclaimed April 16th as “Jim Thorpe Day” in recognition of his athletic accomplishments? A Sac & Fox Indian from Oklahoma, he is widely considered “the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century.” And now, you know the rest of the story. Aho, Rick Waters

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