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Curt Flood in the Media

Curt Flood in the Media: Baseball, Race, and the Demise of the Activist Athlete

Abraham Iqbal Khan
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Curt Flood in the Media
    Book Description:

    Curt Flood in the Media examines the public discourse surrounding Curt Flood (1938-1997), the star center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals throughout the sixties. In 1969, Flood was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. At the time, all Major League Baseball players were subject to the reserve clause, which essentially bound a player to work in perpetuity for his original team, unless traded for another player or sold for cash, in which case he worked under the same reserve conditions for the next team.Flood refused the trade on a matter of principle, arguing that Major League Baseball had violated both U.S. antitrust laws and the 13th Amendment's prohibition of involuntary servitude. In a defiant letter to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn asking for his contractual release, Flood infamously wrote, "after twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes." Most significantly, Flood appeared on national television with Howard Cosell and described himself as a "well-paid slave." Explosive controversy ensued.Khan examines the ways in which the media constructed the case and Flood's persona. By examining the mainstream press, the black press, and primary sources including Flood's autobiography, Khan exposes the complexities of what it means to be a prominent black American athlete-in 1969 and today.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-139-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Curt Flood and the Demise of the Activist-Athlete
    (pp. 3-25)

    The contrasting images featured in the 1990 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina could not have been more pronounced. The Republican candidate was incumbent Jesse Helms, whose racist and reactionary politics had helped him secure reelection since 1972. His chief opponent was Democrat Harvey Gantt, the first African American admitted to Clemson University and former mayor of Charlotte. Legend holds that Gantt’s associates appealed to Wilmington native and University of North Carolina alum Michael Jordan, then arguably the most famous person in the world, to offer the Democratic challenger a small measure of support in an election that was certain...

  5. 2 Curt Flood’s Public Case
    (pp. 26-54)

    When the Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Phillies in 1969, he was disgusted not just by the trade itself but by his treatment that day. Flood received an unceremonious telephone call from Cardinals office assistant Jim Toomey, a “middle-echelon coffee drinker,” just before dawn on a chilly October morning. “If I had been a foot-shuffling porter,” he recalled, “they might have at least given me a pocket watch.” After that, said Flood, “one miserable telephone call released the poison of self-pity. The hard-boiled realist who answered the telephone was a weeping child when he set the receiver down. The...

  6. 3 Jackie Robinson and the Rhetoric of the Black Press
    (pp. 55-86)

    One theme that persists in the contemporary retelling of Curt Flood’s story is that sportswriters working for major U.S. newspapers in the early 1970s pandered to baseball owners and helped codify the claim that abolition of the reserve clause would destroy baseball. After having seen what was written in newspapers such as theSporting Newsand theSt. Louis Post Dispatch, Flood worried inThe Way It Isabout what the public would think about his contract for the following year with the Washington Senators: “Many fans would surely suppose that I had sold out or, at the very least,...

  7. 4 The Disappearance of Curt Flood’s Blackness
    (pp. 87-115)

    Recent scholarly interest in Curt Flood has generally taken the form of revisionist history targeted at disclosing the dimensions of his challenge to the reserve clause that were influenced by race. Working from various assumptions, including the idea that Flood was vilified in the national press, these critics try to recover a narrative that connects the “principle” for which he claimed to fight to the fact of his blackness. Michael Lomax, for example, counts “black rage” as Flood’s primary motivation to file suit, attributing Flood’s decision to “Black Power,” which “exemplified a mood, a disillusionment and alienation from white America,...

  8. 5 Race, Slavery, and the Revolt of the Black Athlete
    (pp. 116-155)

    Ebony’s March 1970 editorial on Flood was as brazenly self-congratulatory as it was enthusiastically supportive in defense of his cause. The same magazine that had discovered Abraham Lincoln “in the person of Curtis Charles Flood” and described baseball as restraining its players in “plush fetters” took the space (the opening words, in fact) to document its foresight six years earlier on the question of the reserve clause: “In April 1964, Ebony published an editorial entitled, ‘Needed—An Abe Lincoln of Baseball.’ The editorial took up cudgels for what may be the highest paid group of slaves in all history—the...

  9. 6 Race and Memory in Sport’s Public Sphere
    (pp. 156-184)

    “Activism has helped the black athlete get where he is today. That’s what sets him apart from the white athlete in this discussion. Activism by Curt Flood and John Mackey, pioneers in free agency, made baseball and football players rich.” So saysNewsday’s Shaun Powell in his recent book,Souled Out?an exegesis of the selfish amnesia of contemporary athletes. Never lacking in critical advice, Powell excoriates contemporary players for deferring obvious invitations to “activism,” which is what makes his appreciation for the likes of Curt Flood significant to a story in which the new era has seemingly lost its...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 185-196)
    (pp. 197-204)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 205-208)