The documentary “The League” explains the history of Negro League Baseball. While it explains the big-name players and the cultural aspect of the league, it also displays the entrepreneurial and economic impact of the Negro Leagues.
The documentary was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Sam Pollard and produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Tariq Trotter, and RadicalMedia. Pollard noted how Negro League players were integral parts of their community at the time.
“They were part of helping these communities thrive and survive during the horrific time of Jim Crow segregation,” Pollard said. “People were segregated but they had to live, they had to survive, they had to entertain themselves and what’s one of the best ways to do it was to be able to go out and see a baseball game.”
One of the producers is Byron Motley whose late father Bob Motley was an umpire for the Negro Leagues. They co-wrote a book called “The Negro Baseball Leagues.”
“I think my father, he’d get $5.00 a game when he first started umpiring for the Negro Leagues,” Motley said. “It wasn’t much money but he loved being on the field and calling balls and strikes and getting into arguments with players and throwing them out of the game.”
“The League” highlighted several prominent people that were integral in maintaining the Negro Leagues including Andrew “Rube” Foster, Cumberland Posey, Satchel Paige, Effa Manley, and Josh Gibson. The documentary touched upon the efforts of the players as well as the efforts of the Black team owners and executives.
It also contains never-before-seen interviews and archival footage. Motley had interviewed over 100 former players and Hall of Famers. His work, along with a variety of other sources helped find the footage.
“There were lots of Negro League aficionados, people who loved the Negro Leagues who collected placards and old tickets and photos and stuff and they also had footage,” Pollard said. “It was one of these opportunities where we were able to find lots of sources to be able to help tell the story visually.”
American poet Quincy Troupe also supplied 16-millimeter footage shot by his father who played as a catcher.
It took 10 years for Motley and Pollard to find funding for “The League,” having Questlove as a producer became a financial benefit.
“With his winning the Academy Award for “Summer of Soul,” it gives gravitas to us,” Pollard said. “You have to get the film bankrolled, you always tried to figure out ways to raise the funds.”