Playing America's Game Essay - Critical Context

Michael L. Cooper

Critical Context

Michael L. Cooper’s Playing America’s Game is one of the first major works on Negro League baseball addressed to a young adult audience. The topic is an important one, given that few readers within this age group are aware of the obstacles that were encountered by African Americans in “playing America’s game” during the first half of the twentieth century. Many are aware of the contribution made by Jackie Robinson; few have ever heard of the other athletes who came before Robinson and made his way a little easier. The Negro Leagues did not exist in a void; they filled a real need as an outlet for men unable to compete in their chosen profession of baseball. The leagues provided entertainment for an audience that wished to follow their own sons in that profession.

As the author states, few white-owned newspapers covered these events, and African American-owned papers rarely had the resources for the extensive coverage of sports. Consequently, many of the stories are anecdotal. Most of these athletes were either elderly or dead at the time that the book was written, and with their deaths are lost the history of their times. Detailed stories of the Negro Leagues had been written, but, with the exception of a few biographies, most were addressed to an adult audience. Cooper reversed that trend with this book. It is ironic that an increasing number of young people in the generations that followed that of Robinson are unaware of his contributions. This book is also an attempt to address such a problem.