My Thoughts on Jackie Robinson Day

25 Apr

Before I jump into this blog entry, I wanted to express my thoughts and condolences to all those who are affected by the tragic events last week.  There were several tragic events last week including the Boston Marathon bombing, explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas as well as several shootings that happened last week.  I may write a blog post about this in the future, but I don’t feel like this week is the appropriate time to do so.

 

Last week, Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day; the day that Jackie Robinson made his major league debut.  You may ask, “Why am I writing a blog about a baseball player on a primarily political blog?”  The reason I am writing about Jackie Robinson is because his story isn’t just about baseball.  It goes well beyond that.  He was an important part of the Civil Rights movement.

I recently saw the movie 42.  It chronicles Jackie Robinson’s life in baseball.  It illustrated some of the challenges that he faced early in his baseball career.  Jackie Robinson wasn’t the first African-American to play, but he was the first to play in the modern era (Modern era being since 1900). He made his major league debut in 1947.  That was before the Selma marches, Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream” speech, The Voting Rights Act signed under President Lyndon Johnson, and before the Supreme Court Case Brown vs. Board of Education.  When he made his major league debut in 1947 Jackie Robinson was entering uncharted territory.

Branch Rickey chose Jackie Robinson because he wanted someone who wasn’t just a good player, but was also tough.  Branch Rickey knew the heat he would take for signing Jackie Robinson was nothing compared to what Jackie Robinson would endure on the field.  Jackie Robinson faced opposition before he even took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Some of his own teammates voiced opposition with playing on the same team as him.   Eventually most of his team mates stood down.

One of the worst hecklers towards Jackie wasn’t from a fan, but from a manager and his players.  Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman shouted slurs at Jackie Robinson while he was batting.  Instead of intimidating Jackie, the plan backfired.  Jackie’s teammates rallied behind him.  Robinson faced the same racism from fans across baseball.  Jackie Robinson became good friends his rookie year with Hank Greenberg.  Hank Greenberg was the first Jewish baseball player, and like Robinson, faced racism.

I am a huge baseball fan, but I could not play the game professionally.  When you play major league baseball, there are many things going on around you.  You have to keep your mind focused on the game.  The thoughts going through a batter’s mind include, how the weather will effect playing the game, what kind of pitchers will I be facing; what is their specialty pitch, and what are the hitting conditions in the ball park I am playing in, among other things.  Now imagine trying to think about all that and more while you have racial epithets and taunting spewed your way.  Baseball isn’t an easy game as it is, but I don’t know how Jackie Robinson could have played the game with all that going on around him on and off the field. He opened the doors for not just African Americans, but for everyone.

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