White Sox to host 2013 Civil Rights Game
Seventh annual celebration set for Aug. 24 at U.S. Cellular Field
CHICAGO -- During Major League Baseball's highly successful Diversity Business Summit last July in Chicago, MLB executive vice president of baseball development Frank Robinson and MLB director of baseball operations initiatives Sylvia Lind were discussing the locale for the 2013 Civil Rights Game and its ancillary activities.
Ken Williams, who was then the White Sox general manager and now serves as the organization's executive vice president, overheard the conversation and offered a quick suggestion.
"He said, 'We'll take it, we'll take it,'" said Robinson with a laugh, speaking at Tuesday afternoon's news conference officially announcing the White Sox as the host of the seventh annual celebration of progress in baseball and society at large. "I said, 'You'll take it? We have to present it to you. We have to present it to you.'"
"I was pretty sure I said, 'We'll take it, with your approval,' " said a smiling Williams, who sat with Robinson and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf at the dais.
The Civil Rights Game will be played at U.S. Cellular Field on Aug. 24 vs. the visiting Texas Rangers and will air nationally on MLB Network. Atlanta served as the host last season, while the White Sox have previously participated in the event during its stops in Memphis and Cincinnati.
Chicago appears to be the perfect host due to its cultural diversity and Reinsdorf's longstanding commitment to minority opportunity as the White Sox leader. The White Sox had an African-American GM in Williams and an African-American manager Jerry Manuel working together from 2001-03, and their Amateur City Elite youth baseball program helped 12 minority players get Division I baseball scholarships last year.
Reinsdorf and Williams stressed the importance of the events beyond the game itself during the Civil Rights Game week.
"This game isn't just the game," Reinsdorf said. "The majority of people in this country were probably not alive when [Dr. Martin Luther] King was killed, and certainly were not alive when Jackie Robinson came into the game. Just like the majority of people weren't alive for the Holocaust. We just can't have people forgetting what went on if we're going to get to a country where we truly have an equal opportunity for everybody."
"I hope that people start to begin to recognize that civil rights is not something of the past. It is something that is continuous," Williams said. "It is something that is evolving to the degree that there are still fights for civil rights in many different avenues of our life."
The first act of the Civil Rights Game weekend will start on Aug. 23, when Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree moderates a roundtable discussion on Baseball & the Civil Rights Movement. Dodgers legend Don Newcombe was part of the discussion last year, and previous panels have included such luminaries as Branch Rickey III, Martin Luther King III, Sharon Robinson and Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Dave Winfield.
Williams was a panelist at the roundtable in Memphis and called it the best experience he has had in baseball.
"I was honored to be on the panel and have a voice," Williams said.
The following day will feature the MLB Beacon Awards, which annually recognize individuals whose lives embody the spirit of the civil rights movement. Newcombe, Congressman John L. Lewis and members of the recording group Earth, Wind & Fire were honored last season. MLB offers three awards -- the Beacon of Life, Beacon of Change and Beacon of Hope -- dedicated to people who have changed the social landscape and inspired generations to come.
There will also be a youth clinic on Saturday, and then the day's festivities will be capped off with the game at U.S. Cellular Field.
"The Civil Rights Game and its surrounding events represent an integral way for Major League Baseball to recognize the courageous people who have fought -- and continue to fight -- injustice," MLB Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig said. "When Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier 66 years ago, it was a watershed moment not only in our sport but in American history. With unprecedented diversity of players of all races and ethnicities in the sport today, we are pleased to stand alongside the White Sox in homage to all those of our game and beyond who have paved new paths to equality."
"We have a minority president, and Chicago is his town. Chicago is one of the most diverse cities in the world, a melting pot of America with all the nationalities and cultures here," said Frank Thomas, who played for 16 years with the White Sox and attended Tuesday's news conference along with fellow White Sox legend Minnie Minoso. "This is a big thing for the city of Chicago."
Memphis hosted the first two editions of the Civil Rights Game, which then moved to Cincinnati from 2009-10 and then to Atlanta for the past two seasons. Last year, the White Sox served as host of the first annual Business Diversity Summit, an event designed to draw job-seekers from all backgrounds for an entry to the game.
More than 1,000 applicants signed up for the opportunity to interview with MLB executives and businesses that sponsor and work directly with the game, a validation of the project created and developed by Wendy Lewis, MLB's senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances.
It was that Business Diversity Summit that helped bring about the natural fit between Chicago and the upcoming Civil Rights Game.
"Each time we thought about a city, we always came back to Chicago -- with the enthusiasm and the rich history of the civil rights movement here, the people involved in the civil rights movement, the diversity in this city and what [Reinsdorf] has done for this city," Robinson said
"I've always felt when you own a sports team, you have an obligation and an opportunity to do the right thing. We take so much out of the community, and we should give back," Reinsdorf said. "But the most important thing is we can do so much more than ordinary citizens and ordinary companies, because of the attention we're getting. It's just the right thing."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com and contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.