WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) honored the legacy of baseball icon and civil rights pioneer Frank Robinson, who passed away last week. On the Floor, Brown noted Robinson’s contributions not only to the game of baseball, but to breaking down racial barriers and standing up for civil rights.
“He was a symbol to so many young Americans that these roles of authority, of leadership, weren’t just ones that only certain kids whose skin was a certain color could dream of,” said Brown. “That was a powerful message, and paved the way for so many great leaders, on and off the baseball field. Let’s honor Frank Robinson’s memory and the legacy of Black Americans not just with words, but with action.”
Brown’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, can be found below:
Last week, America lost a baseball legend and a pioneer for Civil Rights, Frank Robinson. He spent the majority of his playing career in Ohio, first with the Reds and later with the Indians.
Cleveland has been a pioneer for change in baseball – we had the first Black player in the American League with Larry Doby, and the first Black manager, in Frank Robinson.
In the days since his passing, we’ve heard some people say that Frank was one of the most underappreciated legends of the game. But the same could also be said of his importance to our country.
There are few players in baseball who have accomplished even half of what Frank did on the field:
He’s the only person to win a league MVP in both the American and National Leagues.
Rookie of the Year, two-time World Series Champion, World Series MVP. Triple Crown Winner. Gold Glove Winner. 14-time All-Star. Nearly 600 career homeruns, the list goes on and on.
But the championships, the awards, and the records alone don’t define the type of person he was, or what his success meant to so many people.
Frank never cut corners or made excuses.
Despite the Reds signing him right out of high school, he still strove for more, taking courses at Xavier University less than two months after the close of his rookie season.
Frank knew the courses wouldn’t count toward any degree; yet he persevered, and took college courses anyway.
After being traded to Baltimore in 1966, Frank witnessed redlining and segregation that prevented him and his wife from finding housing. Think about that – he was the city’s star baseball player. But because of our country’s racist housing policies, realtors wouldn’t sell him a home.
Frank wasn’t one to stay silent. He joined the NAACP, and became a voice for the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1974, Frank Robinson was traded to my hometown Cleveland Indians. He was so respected at that point in his career, that the Indians also named him manager. That made him the first African American manager in the history of Major League Baseball.
That accomplishment meant so much to so many.
Americans had gotten used to seeing diverse players by the 1970s. But he proved what never should have been in question at all – that African Americans didn’t just belong as players to be watched. They were leaders just like any other American.
That accomplishment resonated not only among baseball fans, but also in factories and schools and offices around the country.
He was a symbol to so many young Americans that these roles of authority, of leadership, weren’t just ones that only certain kids whose skin was a certain color could dream of.
These dreams are for everyone.
That was a powerful message, and paved the way for so many great leaders, on and off the baseball field.
Two years ago, the Indians unveiled a statue of Frank in my hometown, at Progressive Field.
Frank spoke at the unveiling, and he talked about both how far we’ve come, and how much work we still have to do.
He noted at that “There are people out there in the minor leagues and at the big-league level as coaches, and they have earned their way up. But they just don’t seem to be able to break that barrier as often. All I can tell them – don’t give up. Do not give up.”
As we celebrate Black History month, we as a nation need to heed Frank’s words.
We cannot give up on his dream of breaking down the institutional barriers that are set up for people of color in baseball and throughout our society.
We need to not just honor Black trailblazers – we need to continue our country’s unfinished work.
Hard work isn’t paying off for too many people in this country. And it’s even worse for women and people of color who face these challenges on top of sexism and racism that make it even harder to get ahead, no matter how hard they work.
Let’s honor Frank Robinson’s memory and the legacy of Black Americans not just with words, but with action to change that.