A handful of Brooklynites are renewing calls to rename Barclays Center after Jackie Robinson, the famed Brooklyn Dodger who broke racial barriers in professional baseball, saying that the time is ripe to properly honor the Brooklyn trailblazer.
“You’re seeing certain individuals being criticized and their statutes rightly removed, and here’s the opportunity to do something symbolic,” said Park Sloper Arthur Piccolo, who started the movement to honor the legendary athlete. “What I’m proposing is an obvious idea.”
Robinson became the first African American to play in the Major Leagues, spending ten seasons with Brooklyn’s former ballclub from 1947 to 1956, and helping to pave the way for other Black athletes in American sports.
A vocal civil rights advocate throughout his life, Robinson lived for a time in Brooklyn and is buried in Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills Cemetery — but, Piccolo says, the borough has not properly honored his legacy.
“He spent his life at the forefront. While he was in the military, before Rosa Parks, he refused to sit at the back of the bus,” said Piccolo, who runs a Lower Manhattan advocacy non-profit called the Bowling Green Association. “He has never been adequately honored anywhere, not even at his home.”
Barclays Center and its surrounding square has emerged as a key gathering space in Brooklyn throughout the recent spate of Black Lives Matter protests, making the Fort Greene arena a perfect place to honor the sporting icon, Piccolo added.
“It’s no doubt the epicenter of Brooklyn right now,” he said.
The stadium’s developer, Bruce Ratner, sold the arena’s naming rights to the London-based banking group, Barclays, in 2007 for somewhere between $300 and $400 million over 20 years — the most expensive naming contract for any indoor stadium in the US at the time, according to the New York Times.
The deal was re-negotiated to $200 million in 2009 amid the recession, coming out to $10 million per year through 2032, the New York Post reported.
To get around the contractual obligations in that deal, the arena’s current owner, billionaire businessman Joseph Tsai, could incorporate Jackie Robinson into the existing name rather than swapping the name out entirely, proponents suggest.
“I’d propose, the ‘Jackie Robinson Arena at Barclays Center,’” wrote Atlantic Yards watchdog journalist Norman Oder in a June 28 blogpost.
Piccolo first called on Ratner to name the venue after Robinson in 2006, before the area was named, but his calls fell on deaf ears. Oder, however, revived the proposal in an op-ed in Bklyner on June 4, inspiring Piccolo to fight for the name change once more.
“I said wow, this is the time to revive that idea. Perfect timing,” Piccolo said. “We’re talking about symbolism, positive symbolism for the future about equality.”
The time might also be ripe to change the name entirely, since Barclays is looking to end the naming contract early, as it no longer plans on building a retail bank presence in the United States, the New York Post reported last year.
And in addition, the British bank has come under fire for its former ties to the slave trade, according to the non-profit Restitution Study Group, headed by former Brooklynite Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, who commissioned the study while the arena’s name was being debated in 2007. Those ties drew ire at the time from local politicos like then-Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.
Other structures across the borough bear Jackie Robinson’s name, including the Jackie Robinson Parkway, two Jackie Robinson playgrounds, a statue in his likeness in Coney Island, and the Jackie Robinson School in Crown Heights — which sits across from the former Dodgers home, Ebbets Field.
Barclays Center’s plaza also features the Ebbets Field flagpole and a plaque honoring the Brooklyn Dodgers and Robinson, but Piccolo says the tributes aren’t enough.
“What an insult, that there’s some strip of highway. That’s how you honor one of the most important people?” he said, adding that he frequents Barclays Center and has never noticed the plaque. “I would not have a clue that there’s a plaque on a flagpole.”
Since the renewed calls for the renaming, the proposal has gained some traction online. Assemblyman Robert Carroll (D–Park Slope) tweeted his support, saying it’s a “travesty” that Robinson isn’t more remembered in Brooklyn.
“@barclayscenter should be renamed the Jackie Robinson Arena!” he wrote. “He is one of the most influential Americans of the 20th Century and he only played for the Brooklyn Dodgers!”
Others mused that the city could rename the intersection between Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth avenues after the venerated athlete.
“The borough could rename the intersection ‘Jackie Robinson Square’ unless that name is already taken,” wrote the Twitter account, @NetsDaily.
But Piccolo says that most of the local officials he’s reached out to, including Borough President Eric Adams, have not responded to his calls.
However, in a comment to Brooklyn Paper, Adams voiced his support for the renaming.
“It’s fitting that this hero, who spent his major league career here in Brooklyn, should be honored by having his name placed on an important site in the borough,” he said.
BSE Global, the venue management company that operates Barclays Center, did not respond to comment by press time.
This story first appeared on brooklynpaper.com.
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