CINCINNATI -- Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, and Bill Cosby, the 2009 MLB Beacon Award winners, will be part of pregame ceremonies at Great American Ballpark for the 2009 Gillette Civil Rights Game tonight. The trio will also be joined on the field by former Reds' great Frank Robinson, who will throw out the first pitch before the Civil Rights Game held at 7:40 p.m. ET. After preseason exhibition games the last two seasons, this season's game will be played between the Reds and the White Sox. "The 2009 Gillette Civil Rights Game, as one of the premier events on the Major League Baseball calendar, honors both the civil rights movement and also the legacy of three great Americans who exemplify the spirit of this era in their deeds, actions and words," said Commissioner Bud Selig in a statement.
Performing before the game will be Grammy Award-winning gospel artist BeBe Winans who will sing the National Anthem and his song, "America, America." Country singer Rissi Palmer will sing "America the Beautiful," and 17-year-old Bernard "BK" Jackson will play "Take Me out to the Ballgame" on his saxophone during the seventh-inning stretch. The three Beacon Award winners will be honored at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon today from 11:30 to 2 p.m. ET at the Duke Energy Center. The awards are given each year to people who represent the Civil Rights movement. Former President Bill Clinton is the keynote speaker for the luncheon. Selig will present Aaron with the Beacon of Life award, former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard will present Ali with the Beacon of Change award and baseball Hall of Famer Bob Gibson will present Cosby with the Beacon of Hope award. The three winners are no strangers to receiving prestigious awards. They all have previously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to citizens of the United States. The festivities begin on Friday with the Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement roundtable discussion that will occur at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center from 4 to 5:30 p.m ET. Included in the discussion are MLB Hall of Famer Tony Perez, Basketball Hall of Famer and Cincinnati great Oscar Robertson, former All-Star and MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds. Joining them are Richard Lapchick, Lee Lowenfish, Judge Nathaniel Jones and James Clingman Jr. Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree will moderate the roundtable discussion on the power of baseball in the Civil Rights Movement. This event is open to the public and can be viewed on MLB.com. MLB will also host its inaugural Wanna Play program, which will aim to reach the youth in African American communities. This event will take place from 2 to 7 p.m. ET at Cincinnati's Fountain Square. The event, which is free, will include batting and pitching cages, base running contests and wiffle-ball games. Reds' players Brandon Philips and Jerry Hairston Jr. as well as Reynolds and former Reds' outfielder Eric Davis will also provide the crowd with baseball demonstrations. An open-forum question and answer session will also occur at 4 p.m. ET and feature Davis, Palmer, "Cory in the House" actor Kyle Massey, "Zoey 101"actor Christopher Massey and "Journey to the Center of the Earth" actor Josh Hutcherson.
Steve Gartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.