Jackie Robinson Scholars visit MLBPA
Melissa Bellerjeau, a Jackie Robinson Scholar and Jackie Robinson Foundation summer intern, provides a first-person account of her visit to the MLBPA office on June 7. During her visit, Melissa, a Temple University journalism major, was joined by fellow JRF summer interns, Justin Mollison, a student at Vanderbilt University studying biomedical engineering, and Madison Johnson, a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying political science.
A Visit to the MLBPA
By MELISSA BELLERJEAU
On Wednesday, June 7, 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting the Major League Baseball Players Association's headquarters in midtown Manhattan at the invitation of Melissa Persaud, Director of the Major League Baseball Players Trust, which is a sponsor of the Jackie Robinson Foundation where I am an intern this summer. I was joined by: my fellow JRF Scholar interns Justin Mollison, a student at Vanderbilt University studying Biomedical Engineering, and Madison Johnson, a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying political science, as well as JRF President Della Britton and Director of Programs Damian Travier. During our visit, we were asked questions about ourselves and the Foundation. The visit was special to me as a JRF Scholar because our sponsors do so much for us and we don't often get to thank them in-person or learn much about them. But on Wednesday, we had the opportunity to get to know the history of the MLBPA and establish personal connections that I believe will last for years to come. I know that if Jackie Robinson were here today, he would be pleased by the charitable work the MLBPA is doing worldwide and of the relationship between the MLBPA and JRF. In his words, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
We were very fortunate to meet MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark, the first former baseball player and the first African-American to hold that position; Judy Pace Flood, the famed actress and widow of Curt Flood, both an iconic player and crucial figure in labor rights for MLB players; Omar Minaya, the first Hispanic general manager in MLB, and Chris Young, a Red Sox outfielder. Young noted how inspired he was by meeting us JRF Scholars. This struck me – because I was so inspired by him and the other people we met during our visit to the Players Association offices. There I sat with people whose calling is representing players' interests within the professional sport of baseball, which I imagined to be all-consuming, and I found them to be equally as devoted to service, caring for others, and inspiring the next generation of leaders, including my fellow Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars and me.
We were also very inspired by meeting Judy Flood, who flew from L.A to New York to meet with us. Similar to the way that Rachel Robinson, the founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, serves as a living reminder of her late husband's legacy, Judy Flood serves as a reminder and spokesperson for her husband Curt Flood's legacy.
We learned that Curt Flood played 15 seasons in MLB as a center fielder and was an All-Star for three seasons. When thinking of him, it is hard not to think of Jackie Robinson. Mrs. Flood told us that Jackie was Curt's idol. In fact, the two even shared the same jersey number, 42, until Flood joined the Cardinals. No. 42 wasn't available with St. Louis, so he opted to wear the number 21, “half of 42”, which Mrs. Flood pointed out to us.
Outside his long, successful career on the field, like Jackie Robinson, Curt Flood transformed baseball off the field. On Oct. 7, 1969, the Cardinals traded him to the Phillies. MLB's reserve clause, which bound players to their clubs, gave him no recourse other than to accept moving and working for a new employer. He initiated a federal court case to challenge the restriction. Jackie Robinson testified on his behalf. Mrs. Flood told us that Curt Flood was so moved by his idol supporting him that he almost began to cry in court. Flood lost the famous court case, but it created a snowball effect that inspired players to come together to fight against the reserve clause and earn free agency, ultimately changing labor rights for MLB players forever.
Needless to say, we learned a lot on our visit to the MLBPA. We often think of baseball as America's pastime, but baseball is so much more than that. The sport played a crucial role in the Civil Rights movement as baseball was fully integrated before public schools and the U.S. Army. It was and continues to be an agent for change. I am so grateful for both the courage of individual players like Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood and for the support of the MLBPA and the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which have provided opportunities for young people that benefit all of society.