Braves honor Rutgers coach Stringer

Braves honor Rutgers coach Stringer

ATLANTA -- Long before she became one of the most successful collegiate coaches in women's basketball history, Vivian Stringer was a young Pirates fan who idolized Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and some of the other civic-minded athletes of yesteryear who helped create the opportunities she has attempted to cultivate for today's youth.

"They were people that represented the intertwining, because it didn't matter if you were black or white, people appreciated who they were as human beings," Stringer said.

This is the sentiment that will be celebrated as the Braves celebrate Heritage Weekend over the next few days. The event kicked off on Friday afternoon with the Hank Aaron Champion for Justice Award Ceremony presented by Delta Air Lines at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. The 2015 Hank Aaron Champion for Justice Award was presented to four outstanding individuals who have made a lifelong commitment to overcoming industry obstacles and inspiring future generations.

This year's winners are civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr., former Major League outfielder Willie Horton, Medal of Freedom recipient Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Stringer, who serves as the head coach of Rutgers University's women's basketball team.

"I am so humble," Stringer said. "I am wondering, why am I here? I haven't done anything. I took my cues, my leadership and the ability just to stand up, because of people like John Lewis. Whether we recognize it or not, the early starters were people like Hank Aaron and Willie Stargell. These people paid the price and so often we see them in their glory, but don't know what they might have gone through to get to that level.

"So the least I can do is to stand up for the young women that I have the opportunity to coach. Those who started a long time ago are the ones who fueled me and gave me the inspiration and the motivation to go on. They're the ones who took the hits. You think about John Lewis. He was on those bus rides. He was the one who was hit on the head. He was the one who understood he needed to lay his life down so that others would have an opportunity."

Stringer has guided three schools to the NCAA Final Four, and she experienced the thrill of being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. She understands that the accomplishments that have afforded her fame would not have been possible without the efforts of such individuals as Lewis and Lafayette, who both played key roles in the Freedom Rides that promoted unity in the segregated South during the 1960s.

"In 1961, the same year [President] Barack Obama was born, black people and white people couldn't be seen riding on a bus together leaving Washington, D.C., traveling to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi," Lewis said. "So we had to speak out. I tell young people today that when you see something that is not right, not fair or not just, you have a moral obligation to speak up."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.