Arcadia University Hosts Screening of “THE LEAGUE” and Q&A with Filmmaker

By Ryan Hiemenz | March 1, 2024
Byron Motley speaking to students on the baseball team.

Byron Motley, the writer and filmmaker of the documentary, “THE LEAGUE,” visited Arcadia University on Feb. 28 for a screening of his film and a Q&A with the audience. The event was part of Arcadia’s month-long celebration of Black history.

“THE LEAGUE” documents the struggles and triumphs of the Negro Baseball Leagues through the early 20th century, celebrating the journey of the leagues and the players involved. It examines both the social and economic benefits of the Negro Leagues on Black communities, as well as the unforeseen consequences that came with integration. 

“It took me 25 years to make this documentary,” said Motley. “People just weren’t very interested in the story for the longest time, but I believed in it so I just kept trying and kept trying and here we are today.”

As the credits rolled, the Commons Great Room erupted into applause as students prepared their questions for the Q&A.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Emma Mae Jones ’26. “I really like baseball and I like documentaries, so it was great. It was better than I expected.”

Jamal Carr, a sophomore Sociology major, was able to attend a group dinner with Motley prior to the screening and was fascinated by his stories.

“It was great learning the history,” he said. “I went to the dinner and it was very informative and surprising hearing how he gathered all of that information and got all the interviews with the players and even Maya Angelou. A lot of that information in the documentary was surprising too, like Effa Manley being the first Black woman owner and her standing up to get compensated for her players that were going into the major leagues.”

“THE LEAGUE” features archive footage previously lost to history, including never-before-seen interviews with legendary players Sachel Paige, Buck O’Neil, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, all of whom started their careers in the Negro Leagues. The documentary was released in July 2023 and was directed by Sam Pollard, written by Byron Motley, and produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (a Philly native!) and Tariq Trotter.

Motley is a singer, songwriter, filmmaker, writer, and photographer who created this documentary as a tribute to his late father, Bob Motley, who was an umpire in the Negro Leagues. Byron co-authored his father’s memoir, “The Negro Baseball Leagues: Tales of Umpiring Legendary Players, Breaking Barriers, and Making American History,” which recounts his father’s youth in a segregated America, becoming one of the first African American Marines, and experiences as an umpire in the Negro Leagues. This memoir served as the basis for “THE LEAGUE.,” and inspired Motley to dig deeper into the history and impact of the Negro Leagues for his documentary.

“The interesting thing about my father was he was not friendly with the players until they founded the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in 1990,” explained Motley. “He was a true umpire, and even though Satchel Paige and other players lived just down the road from me growing up, I thought they wouldn’t like me either because I was the umpire’s son. This documentary changed all that, and I got to develop these relationships that my father never could.” 

Arcadia’s connection to the history of the Negro Leagues doesn’t end with this screening though. In 1999, members of the Philadelphia Stars, a team that played in the Negro National League from 1934-1948 and the subsequent Negro American League, visited Beaver College to meet students and share their stories. Some of those same players from the Stars, including Mahlon Duckett and Wilmer Harris, were featured in “THE LEAGUE.” Motley showed the audience a baseball signed by the team.

A baseball signed by players from the Philadelphia Stars.

“THE LEAGUE” is now streaming on numerous platforms including Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video. You can watch the trailer here.