|John Carlos and Tommie Smith|
The 1960s was a period when racial tension in the United States boiled over. American history books were forever rewritten as Civil Rights Leaders Malcolm X and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated in 1965 and 1968, respectively. Sports legend Muhammad Ali stirred the pot when he refused to report for duty and fight in the Vietnam War upon being drafted; rationalizing that since Black Americans were denied civil rights he could not and would not fight to protect those without rights in another country, in 1967. And, Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith made headlines during the 1968 Olympic Games when they displayed their solidarity to the Civil Rights Movement, performing the “black power salute” standing tall atop the podium with Olympic medals hanging around their necks, wearing black socks and shoeless.
These, and many other, powerful stories have been recounted time and time again. However, the contribution of notable athlete and history maker, former MLB player Curt Flood is lesser known by many; and perhaps overlooked by others.
In a move that’s long overdue, HBO is stepping up to the plate to share Curt Flood’s story in a documentary set to air July 13, one day after MLB’s All-Star Game. The documentary will chronicle details surrounding the famous Supreme Court case, Flood v. Kuhn.
Flood is widely credited with introducing the concept of Free Agency after refusing a trade and challenging the Reserve Clause which stated that upon the expiration of a contract, players did not have the right to enter into a new contract with another team. Instead, the team retained the player’s rights and could either resign or release/trade the player without the player’s consent. Taking a stand for what he believed to be right, Flood sacrificed money and his career in exchange for freedom and the power to choose the outcome of his future. In a letter to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood compared the reserve clause to slavery, stating, “I am not a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.”
Despite the support of the MLB union, Flood ultimately lost the case. However, the former St. Louis Cardinal center fielder’s impact on the sports world continues to reverberate more than four decades later; as seen last summer with then free agent Lebron James and the media circus surrounding his “decision”.
HBO’s choice to tell this story at a time when the futures of the NFL and NBA are unknown, due to labor disputes, will allow the cable network to ride the wave of the current sports climate and tell a story within a story; spurring interesting commentary and generating high ratings.
HBO’s solid reputation of delivering compelling and thoughtful content will also give viewers more than enough reasons to tune in. But if you remain unconvinced that this story is necessary and important, I encourage you to watch because Curt Flood’s sacrifices were an integral part of not only sports history or Black history, but most importantly, American history.
Here’s a preview of the documentary which airs tomorrow, July 13 on HBO at 9PM/ET:
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