Commentary: A Final End to an Ungentlemanly Agreement
March 1, 2021
In this article, Tony Adams reviews the history of the “gentlemen’s agreement” and the recent MLB press release announcing “Major League Baseball is correcting a long time oversight in the game’s history by officially elevating the Negro Leagues to ‘Major League’ status.”
Snippet from the article:
Two months ago, Major League Baseball announced it would recognize players from seven Negro Leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948 as “major leaguers” for historical and statistical purposes. That symbolic act — nearly all the affected players are long-deceased — finally addresses the last vestige of a shameful “Gentlemen’s Agreement” that excluded generations of Black athletes from white baseball, while defaming their abilities and disparaging the only forums in which they were permitted to play. The wonder is that it took so long.
A true “gentlemen’s agreement,” according to Black’s Law Dictionary, is “an unwritten agreement that is secured by the good faith and honor of the parties.” Such agreements, though not enforceable legally, were central to gaining ratification of the first U.S. Constitution by the states, to opening San Francisco’s public schools to Aisian children in the early 1900s, and to ending the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Until Jackie Robinson took the field for the Montreal Royals in 1946, a “gentlemen’s agreement” among team owners was cited by baseball’s leaders — if they were being honest — as the reason why no Black athletes had played for any organized professional team since the previous century. (In less candid moments, they said that no African-Americans were good enough to make their teams.)
Anthony Adams is a founding partner of Adams Leclair LLP. Contact Tony Adams at 585-327-4100 or firstname.lastname@example.org