The sports world lost one of the greatest baseball players to ever live. Henry “Hank” Aaron passed away Friday at the age of 86. He was the longtime home run king, but his excellence on the diamond only tells half of the story. He was a civil rights activist, one of the early athletes who used their platform to promote change in society. Combine his success on and off the diamond, and you get a Hall of Fame player.
Aaron’s impact was felt in all sports, not just baseball. Many athletes look to Hank Aaron as inspiration. The Atlanta sports icon is getting special recognition from other Atlanta sports organizations for the upcoming 2021 seasons.
Georgia sports teams to retire Hank Aaron’s No. 44 jersey
Even though he played for the Atlanta Braves, Hank Aaron’s impact was felt all over Georgia. Many Georgia sports organizations invited Aaron to speak to their teams, as he was full of information and knowledge. For his entire career, Hank Aaron work No. 44. The Braves retired that jersey number back in 1977. It looks like other sports teams in Georgia are going to follow their lead.
The Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta FC United will be retiring their No. 44 jerseys in honor of the late Aaron, according to Yahoo! Sports. Arthur Blank owns both teams, so it makes sense that both franchises will retire Aaron’s jersey. The No. 44 will be retired for each team’s 2021 season.
“He [Aaron] was more than an icon in sports, he was an icon off the field as well in how he carried himself and treated others. Because of that, we are honored to celebrate his awe-inspiring life by retiring number 44 this season for our Atlanta Falcons,” said Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay per Falcons.com.
Another Georgia team is joining in on this retirement of Aaron’s jersey number. Georgia Tech announced that they would also be retiring the number 44 for their upcoming season via a statement. Quez Jackson wore No. 44 last season and will have a new number in the near future, according to the statement.
This gesture by the Georgia sports teams shows how impactful Hank Aaron was. This outpouring of love from Georgia sports almost never happened because Aaron didn’t feel comfortable about the Braves’ moving.
Hank Aaron almost never played in Atlanta
Very few athletes can substantially impact their respective sport and the community their team was located. Hank Aaron is one of those individuals. He played for the Braves, who were in Milwaukee before they went to Atlanta. It was when they were moving to Atlanta is when Aaron realized his impact as a baseball star.
Aaron was born and raised in the Deep South, living in Mobile, Alabama as a child. Baseball was his way out of the South, ripe with racism, discrimination, and other forms of hate toward African Americans, whether systemic or blatant. Landing with the Braves in Milwaukee was his opportunity to get away from that and begin a new life. So when they were moving to Atlanta, Aaron was hesitant about going with them.
He didn’t want to return to the region he worked so hard to escape. “I have lived in the South, and I don’t want to live there again,” said Aaron per the Washington Post. “We can go anywhere in Milwaukee. I don’t know what would happen in Atlanta.”
It took words from prominent sports figures like Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to convince Aaron that going to Atlanta would be a good idea. Him being a black superstar athlete during the height of the civil rights movement, playing in the south for a white sports team, meant something. It meant he had the power to use his platform to bring light to issues and promote change. Aaron joined the Braves in Atlanta, and the rest is history.
Hank Aaron put together a Hall of Fame career in Atlanta
The Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966. Aaron’ had much success before the team moved to Atlanta, and it continued afterward. He never had a batting average lower than .340 during his time in Atlanta per Baseball-Reference. He averaged 37 home runs a season while in Atlanta. His most famous moment was breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record.
Aaron’s name is all over the baseball record books. He is still the MLB’s all-time leader in RBIs (2,297), total bases (6,856), and extra-base hits (1,477). He’s second all-time in home runs with 755 (although many still consider him the true home run king) and third in hits.
With the civil rights movement raging on during his playing career, Aaron made sure to support those efforts. Being in the heart of the south, it was difficult for him. His nickname Hank is from a white broadcaster who though Hank is more friendly to whites. He would face backlash, death threats, and hate mail. He’d hear offensive remarks while at bat or in the field. Aaron continued to persevere, becoming a civil rights activist and an icon in Atlanta.
Georgia sports teams are honoring one of their own by retiring his jersey number for their upcoming seasons. It is a classy move, as it is a tip of the cap to one of the greatest and most iconic sports figures. Henry “Hank” Aaron will forever be a legend in Atlanta, and their sports teams are honoring him as such.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference