Twins remove statue of ex-owner Calvin Griffith, who moved team to be around 'hard-working white people'

The Minnesota Twins have removed the statue of former owner Calvin Griffith from Target Field, citing racism.

The removal of the statue occurred on Juneteenth, the June 19th celebration commemorating the day in 1865 that the last Confederate slaves in the United States were emancipated. Target Field stands in downtown Minneapolis, not far from the spot where George Floyd died in custody of local police on May 25.

Griffith owned the Twins franchise from 1955 until he sold it in 1984. He inherited the team from his adoptive father at 43 years old when it was known as the Washington Senators. Griffith moved the Senators to Minnesota in 1961, where they were renamed Twins.

‘You only had 15,000 blacks here’

In a 1978 speech given to the Lions Club in Waseca, Minnesota, Griffith talked about why he moved the team from Washington.

Calvin Griffith moved the Twins from Minnesota from Washington because "you only had 15,000 blacks here." (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
Calvin Griffith moved the Twins to Minnesota from Washington because "you only had 15,000 blacks here." (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Per the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

At one point in the speech, Griffith paused, lowered his voice and asked if there were any blacks around. Then he said, “I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don’t go to ballgames, but they’ll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it’ll scare you to death. It’s unbelievable. We came here because you’ve got good, hardworking, white people here.”

The Twins cited 1978 in their statement on the statue’s removal, an apparent acknowledgment of that speech to the Lions Club.

“Our decision to memorialize Calvin Griffith with a statue reflects an ignorance on our part of systemic racism present in 1978, 2010 and today,” the statement reads. “We apologize for our failure to adequately recognize how the statue was viewed and the pain it caused for many people — both inside the Twins organization and across Twins Territory.

“We cannot remove Calvin Griffith from the history of the Minnesota Twins, but we believe removal of this statue is an important and necessary step in our ongoing commitment to provide a Target Field experience where every fan and employee feels safe and welcome.”

Reckoning continues in sports

The Twins’ decision is the latest in the sports world to reflect the larger race reckoning happening in the United States in the aftermath of Floyd’s homicide.

On Thursday, the SEC threatened to pull championship events out of the state of Mississippi as long as the Confederate flag remains a part of the state’s flag. The NCAA followed suit on Friday.

On June 10, NASCAR barred fans from displaying the Confederate flag at its events, a long-held tradition for the sport with roots in the South.

That same day, the Carolina Panthers removed a statue of founding owner Jerry Richardson from in front of Bank of America Stadium, citing “public safety” as Confederate statues were being toppled in cities across the country. Richardson sold the team to David Tepper in 2018 after a report that he engaged in sexual harassment and used a racial slur in the workplace.

Richardson was also the co-founder of restaurant chain Denny’s. The chain paid $54 million in 1994 to settle lawsuits from black customers who claimed they were denied service or given substandard service.

On Friday, a memorial to founding owner George Preston Marshall was removed from RFK Stadium, the former home of the Washington Redskins. Marshall was a segregationist who refused to sign black players until 1962 federal law forced him to do so.

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