COMMENTARY: Remembering Sports' Role in the Civil Rights Movement

Charles E. Sutton | 2/14/2014, 3 p.m.
Curt Flood

He argued that the reserve clause violated antitrust laws and the 13th Amendment, which barred slavery and involuntary servitude. After a U.S. District Judge rejected Flood's claim in August 1970, the case went to the Supreme Court. The court ruled against him in a 5-3 decision in 1972.

By that time Flood's career had ended. However, his lost battle turned into an eventual victory for the players. Major League Baseball agreed to federal arbitration of players' salary demands in 1973, and in 1975 an arbitrator effectively threw out the reserve clause, paving the way for free agency in baseball and all professional sports. As a result, today's professional athletes sign contracts worth tens of millions of dollars. Sure, the players themselves are talented, but the efforts of Curt Flood are a major part of the reason they are getting "paid."

The civil rights movement opened the door for heroes like Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood to challenge the baseball establishment. Today, not only are African-American athletes allowed to participate in professional sports, but they are allowed to receive very handsome salaries.

As I journey through this month of February, I'll certainly remember the contributions of George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., just to name a few. But, I'll be sure to also recognize all the great work done by two of my favorite African-Americans, Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood.