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Berra Museum fostering inclusion for all

Berra Museum fostering inclusion for all

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MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- The modern athlete is ruthlessly aware of their strength and willing to do whatever it takes to refine their weakness. But how often do they work at being a better teammate?

It's that conflict -- the divide between individuality and assimilation -- that often fuels much of the drama in professional sports. But thanks to a new exhibit at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, the focus is back on being a good teammate and finding more ways to be open and inclusive.

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Berra, the 10-time World Series champion and Hall of Fame catcher with the Yankees, is famous both for being a great teammate and for the many colorful quotes and pronouncements he's issued over the years. But now, with his museum partnered with Athlete Ally, he's advancing a topical message.

"Allyship," the exhibit, is about the many ways that teammates can make a difference in the world. It celebrates many seminal moments, from Pee Wee Reese putting an arm around Jackie Robinson to Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay athlete in the National Basketball Association.

And it begs the question: What can you do to make life better for your neighbor?

"To me, this is one of Yogi's great legacies," said Dave Kaplan, director of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center. "We all laugh at the Yogi-isms and the commercials and that stuff. He's a lovable guy. But he's a guy who treated everybody the way he wanted to be treated. That's the Golden Rule.

"That's what we preach here all the time: Be genuine. Be authentic. Be yourself. Yogi is just a guy that's lived this remarkable life and made great choices in that life. We try to hold him up as a model to younger kids -- particularly kids who are interested in sports -- about moving up and moving ahead."

Allyship, which stands in front of a mural of Yankee Stadium being constructed in 1922, is part of an effort to stop hazing and bullying at the younger levels and foster feelings of inclusion for all.

The first display in the exhibit, a photograph of Larry Doby and teammate Steve Gromek embracing after the 1948 World Series, encapsulates the entire theme. Today, the photo is robbed of all context, something innocent and benign that the viewer might see in any newspaper or magazine.

But in 1948, it started a firestorm. The photo ran in many newspapers all around the country and was greeted by a public that wasn't really ready to embrace the reality of whites and blacks embracing and working together. For Doby, who broke the color barrier in the American League, it spoke volumes.

"That's what America is about, or what it's supposed to be all about," said a pull-quote attributed to the late Doby at the exhibit. "I think I feel good about that photograph more than anything."

The exhibit winds its way through other sports, lionizing players who have gone out of their way to be accepting and welcoming to their teammates. It references the story of Reese, who sent a message to the world by embracing Robinson during the first few months of integration in baseball.

And it tells the story of catcher Elston Howard, the first African-American player to play for the Yankees and a teammate of Berra's. Howard was originally concerned at how he'd be accepted by his teammates, but he found Berra, Mickey Mantle and Co. to be warm and effusive.

These are the stories of how sports have helped change society from within, and how things are still changing. The wonderful life friendship of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman -- immortalized by the NBA's Teammate of the Year Award -- is featured prominently in the Allyship exhibit.

Hall of Famer Ted Williams is featured for standing up for Negro League players during his induction speech, and Roberto Clemente for his dignified service to a cause greater than his own. Clemente, who died during a humanitarian mission in 1972, remains an icon to millions of people around the world.

Athlete Ally, a non-profit group founded by former college wrestler Hudson Taylor, was founded to encourage acceptance and combat homophobia among high school and college athletes. Its primary mission is to create a safe and welcoming athletic environment to people of all orientations.

Now, with the Allyship exhibit, the Yogi Berra Learning Center and Museum and Athlete Ally plan on hosting special programs that speak to the next generation of athletes. It's one thing to want to win, but it's another to learn to take the journey together and to think of your teammates as family.

"We work with a lot of high school teams, so this is really part and parcel of the message that we're always talking about," said Kaplan. "From a historical perspective, the movie '42' had just come out, and really the highlight of that was Pee Wee's gesture. I said, 'There had to be other examples of that through different sports. Some moment, some gesture that really made a significant difference.' "

Several of those gestures are here, including Ismael Valdes welcoming Hideo Nomo to the Dodgers and Steve Garvey assisting reporter Claire Smith as she fought for equal access to the clubhouse. These are signs that the world is changing, and signs that normal people are making it happen.

Some of these battles seem as if they took place generations ago, but some have never been more topical. And that's the point of Allyship, open to the public Wednesday to Sunday from noon to 5 ET. History is always unfolding, and by working together, we can make the world a better place.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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