‘The Untold Truth’ On The Negro Leagues

By Doug Miller
Updated: April 21, 2008

NEW YORK — When TV and film producer Gregg Champion visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City for the first time, he was lucky enough to be directed through the exhibits by the museum’s effervescent marketing director, Bob Kendrick.

“He was my tour guide for the day,” Champion says. “And no one on the planet tells this story more passionately than him. As he was telling it, I begin to peel back the onion as to really diving into what I was discovering.”

“And the bottom line is that I went to good schools and a good college and consider myself a pretty knowledgeable sports fan, and much of what was in that museum was never revealed to me before.

Champion says he walked out of the building “all flushed.”

“I was ticked off. Ticked off that I was cheated out of history. Certain things in that museum had not been told, and as an avid baseball fan, I couldn’t believe it.”

Champion says his astonishment and disappointment immediately turned to passion.

“I said, ‘I’ve got to do something,’” Champion says. “And I had to do it in a way so kids in fifth grade or in high school or in college can get the lesson and get the real truth that I was robbed of.”

A few years later, with the help of Wrapped Productions and executive producers John Rittenour and Gary Ballen, Champion is hard at work on the upcoming documentary film appropriately titled, “The Untold Truth,” and he’s got Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. signed up to narrate the film and as another executive producer.

The film, which is in production, will tell the rich, important and largely ignored history of black baseball and everything surrounding it from its beginnings in the late 19th century until Jackie Robinson broke the Major League racial barrier in 1947.

“It’s something everyone needs to know about,” Gossett says. “It’s not just black history. It’s everyone’s history.”

And with “The Untold Truth,” it’s likely that such history will reach an entirely new audience. To that end, Champion has taken a new approach to an old form.

“I decided that I don’t want to do the Ken Burns treatment on this project,” Champion says of the noted documentary filmmaker’s all-encompassing nine-part “Baseball” series.

“What he did is fantastic, but the gist of this lesson has to be told to (an) audience of Generation X and Generation Y. That’s who’s missing out on the message. And how do we do that?”

Champion has started answering that question by seeking out a contemporary music soundtrack with some of the hottest pop, R&B, hip-hop and jazz artists in the industry, plus a who’s-who of iconic interview subjects.

So far, the list of big names that have been approached about participating in the film is impressive: Tiger Woods, Nelly, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays, Ludacris, Bob Costas, Chris Rock, Tyrese, Dionne Warwick, and even Jesse Jackson and presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“The hope is that this film will be in the public school system for the next 50 years,” Champion says. “It’ll get normal distribution during Black History Month (2009). After that, this goes into classrooms every Black History Month so every fifth grader is not cheated.

“No longer will they fall asleep for 45 minutes. With the icons and music in the film, the kids will perk up. For 90 minutes over two days, teachers can actually grade their papers.”

Champion says the dream and vision of “The Untold Truth” couldn’t have been possible without Gossett.

“He is the perfect partner,” Champion says. “He grew up watching Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn. He played Satchel Paige (in the 1981 TV movie, “Don’t Look Back”).”

“He also equated this as picking up where ‘Roots’ left off. Plus he’s a minority owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks. You couldn’t ask for a better guy to do this. Not to mention the fact that he has a great voice.

“He’s invested emotionally. It isn’t just a paycheck.”

Nope, not when hardly anyone knows that the batting helmet, night baseball and the screwball were all invented in the Negro Leagues.

Not when the most vibrant black neighborhoods sprung up from Negro League baseball, featured booming nightclubs, barbecue pits and jazz juke joints and then faded away as soon as big-league baseball became integrated.

But the legacy remains, according to Champion, and that’s why he’s making his movie.

“Without the Negro baseball leagues and the communities surrounding it, you don’t have Tiger Woods, you do not have Barack Obama, you do not have Nelly. And even if you do, all of it is delayed.

“And this is not just a story about baseball. It’s about how black baseball and black economics were side by side since 1860.”

NOTE: For more information on this film, go to www.theuntoldtruth.com.