On Feb. 15, the Cox Communications Central Florida Division will revive its much-lauded Negro Baseball League Project public-affairs program with a luncheon in Gainesville, Fla., and expects to replicate the project elsewhere in Florida and possibly in other Cox systems outside the state.
In May 2008, the system in Gainesville had the idea to invite a former Negro Baseball League player to come in and talk to Cox employees about diversity, vice president of operations and general manager Mike Giampietro said. He wanted to give employees a “gut-level” emotional education about diversity through the real-life example of skilled professionals who weren't allowed to ply their trade in Major League Baseball because of their skin color.
That breakfast had a big impact, Giampietro said: He received 35 to 40 e-mails from employees afterward, where typically a big response after an employee gathering would be an e-mail or two.
The idea grew into a two-day event at a Gainesville hotel that brought in nine former Negro League players and drew much attention. “The resonance with people in the community was far more than anything we'd ever done before,” Giampietro said. Hundreds of employees, community leaders and kids attended.
A lasting impact was that kids who attended the event helped organize a baseball team that later played in a statewide tournament, with support from Cox, he said. As is well known, African-American participation in baseball has declined, and the project helped energize black youths to get involved in baseball. Cox has a strong connection to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the Gainesville system would like to work with a local chapter that has a strong African-American membership to fix up a nearby ballfield, Giampietro said.
Among many awards the program won was the Association for Cable Communicators' ESPN Good Sports Award last fall at the Cable Connection gathering in Denver.
Plans are under way to host similar events with the former players in Pensacola, possibly in connection the local minor-league Pelicans, and in Ocala, Giampietro said. Cox's National Diversity Council backs the project, which is designed to be easily reproduced in other markets, hopefully where former Negro League players live.
“The story they have to tell is so strong and so strongly reflected in their voice, it's almost like this opportunity to experience living history,” Giampetro said.