Why this matters
Conversation around American baseball often centers on declining popularity and racial divisions, a story that is echoed in Cape Town, South Africa, where the Athlone Athletics baseball club came together out of the ashes of Apartheid to equal the playing field and bring the local Coloured community together. Guest host Jerome Allen takes you inside the history and meaning of Cape Town's A's in a two-part series on the Global Sport Matters Podcast.
On the latest episode of the Global Sport Matters Podcast, guest host Jerome Allen, NBA Agent and co-founder of Gallery 35, begins the story of the Athlone Athletics (A’s), a Coloured South African baseball team borne out of survival against White domineering post-Apartheid. In Part One, team founders Mervyn Wedel and Sean Campbell tell their story while sports historian Lou Moore of Grand Valley State University draws parallels between Apartheid-era baseball and the game's segregated history in the United States.
Few would argue that the fall of apartheid was not a win in the fight for humanity and equality. But few also readily recognize the new racial struggles that came as a result. For the Coloured community near Cape Town, baseball was a social cornerstone and quite familial in nature. As Apartheid in South Africa came to an end, the then-segregated Black, Coloured, and White baseball leagues began a process of integration. White teams were generally wealthier and enjoyed higher status in society, which was used to tactically place non-White teams at a disadvantage.
Two Coloured teams, the Wolves and the Dynamo, were historical rivals from two different neighborhoods in Athlone. As it became increasingly clear that both teams would not independently survive the new integrated league, they pooled their resources and banded together to build a new brand of baseball that enabled them to be competitive within the league, and ultimately hold on to a vital part of their Coloured community.
Most are familiar with the phrase “segregated baseball” as it usually points directly to the history of baseball in the U.S., referring to the Negro Leagues being separate from Major League Baseball. Moore helps bridge the gap between these histories which reminds us that, regardless of how far we are from each other, our experiences can make us closer than we often realize.
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Jerome Allen and Lucas O’Connor are the co-founders of Gallery 35, a venture aimed at telling stories about social forces and human experience through the lens of sport.
For baseball to survive as America’s pastime, the sport known for tradition and nostalgia will need to broaden its appeal across racial, cultural, and gender lines.
For the kid who swings a bat for the first time; the front office data analyst looking for the next big star; the minor leaguer hoping to make it to the bigs; and the major league manager looking to stay on top, can a centuries-old sport become more diverse and inclusive in new ways?