Pittsburgh’s Chuck Cooper was basketball’s Jackie Robinson — a trailblazer in his sport, and the first African-American drafted to play in the NBA in 1950.
The foundation that bears his name Tuesday awarded the Pirates with the Chuck Cooper Career Achievement in Leadership, Diversity and Community Service, for decades of work to support diversity and the minority community.
“We are tremendously proud and honored to recognize the Pittsburgh Pirates for all the things you do off the field,” said Chuck Cooper III, the son of the late Cooper, citing the club’s scouting in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, the choice to start an all-minority lineup in 1971, to current work like the club’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, or RBI program.
Pirates president Frank Coonelly accepted the award at a luncheon in the Lexus Club at PNC Park and took the opportunity to comment on fan reaction at the October wild-card win against Cincinnati.
“It was remarkable. It was humbling. And, in my judgment, a fan base doesn’t love a professional sports organization like that, unless [it] does more in its community than simply play games and put on exhibitions of baseball,” said Coonelly.
“That type of true love only comes from an organization that takes seriously its responsibility to give back to its community. I’m proud to say the Pittsburgh Pirates are taking serious their obligation to give back to the community.”
The luncheon, attended by Mayor Bill Peduto, former Pirates shortstop Dick Groat, and Cooper’s former Duquesne teammate, Carl Pacacha, brought out stories of Cooper who was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1950 after a standout career with the Dukes.
“It’s just remarkable as you sit back today in 2014, whether it’s Jackie Robinson or Chuck Cooper, that these men were able to serve their country in World War II, but yet couldn’t play the sport they grew up loving,” said Coonelly. “It’s a great honor, an honor I accept on behalf of our organization.”
The foundation also awarded scholarships totaling $20,000 to six Duquesne graduate level students: Bernandie Jean, a PhD candidate in computational chemistry; broadcast journalism major Talia Kirkland; early childhood/elementary education major Ciarra Lewis; political science and forensic humanities major Charquinta McCray; instructional technology and leadership doctorate candidate Juel Smith; pharmacy major Taylor Price; and rhetoric PhD candidate Tahirah Walker.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez,