They gathered around the chain-link fence – a baseball diamond visible on just the other side – as their guide began to speak.
All 24 of the Kansas City Chiefs’ rookies, typically a resounding bunch, fell silent.
“This was all based on one simple principle,” the guide explained. “If you won’t let us play, then we’ll just create a league of our own.”
The man speaking was Bob Kendrick, the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City’s historic 18th and Vine District, and it was his task on this summer afternoon to indoctrinate the community’s newest athletes with its past.
Kendrick articulated the origins of the league – its determined existence in spite of prejudice – and how a Kansas City Monarch named Jackie Robinson helped change the course of history.
It’s a story that’s best told right here in Kansas City.
“If they’re going to call Kansas City home, they need to learn about the things that make Kansas City special,” Kendrick said following the tour, which lasted over an hour and ended with a dinner on the museum’s famed baseball diamond. “They’ll never experience the kind of adversity that these ballplayers had to face, but I hope they can draw strength from what they witnessed here as they go through challenges and trials during their careers.”
From Kendrick’s words to the exhibits themselves, the visit seemed to resonate with each of the players as they made their way through the museum.
“Any time you get to learn the history of any sport – the people who started things and how they got things to where they are today – you want to hear that story,” said offensive guard Kahlil McKenzie. “If you look at where sports are now, it’s been a long and crazy road to get here. It’s just awesome to learn about, so being here is special.”
The visit was part of the Chiefs’ annual “Rookie Experience Program,” which seeks to equip Kansas City’s newest players with the knowledge they need to succeed as professional athletes – including an understanding of their new home.
“Being here and coming from our Hall of Fame earlier, it just makes me want to be the best I can be,” said cornerback Tremon Smith. “It makes me want to work as hard as possible.”
And away from the field, that understanding allows the players – who are so interwoven into the fabric of this community – to teach their fans a little about themselves.
“I think any time that you’re in a new city, you need to learn about the place itself, because the more you learn about it, the more people are going to learn about you,” said Mayor Sly James, who stopped by the museum following the tour. “We’re always trying to create those relationships between our athletes and our city, because both have a lot to give to each other.”
If this week’s visit was any indication, that relationship is already well underway.
“The city will see that they’re out here and they’ll embrace that. Kansas City loves the people that are on our teams – we will love them as much as they love us,” James said. “This is the beginning of that right here.”