Calling the Shots: 42 reminds us of equality in sports

Aaron Brezel, Assistant Sports Editor

 

No moment in the history of professional sports has had as profound an impact on American society as Jackie Robinson breaking the infamous Major League color barrier sixty-six years and twelve days ago.  Baseball has recognized the importance of Jackie’s efforts with a Hall of Fame Selection, the renaming of the Rookie of the Year Award to the Jackie Robinson Award, and the establishment of Jackie Robinson Day as a sport-wide holiday.

Last April 15 marked the tenth anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day.  Along with the annual hoopla and ceremony, this year’s celebrations were put into greater perspective with the release of a Jackie Robinson biopic, 42.  In just three days, 42 hit a home run in the box office with $27.5 million in ticket sales, easily making it the most successful baseball movie of all time.  This is a sure  testament to the timeless example of heroism Robinson set.

With all the publicity surrounding the film, it is a good time to re-evaluate why the Robinson story is so important to the legacy of baseball and to our identity as a nation.

Jackie Robinson made an immediate impact the moment he stepped onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, sixteen years before Dr.  King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.    With his professionalism, he stared into the ugly face of racism and it backed down.  When Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey first signed Robinson, a clause in the contract stated Robinson could not fight back against any provocation.  As a result, Robinson was forced to endure constant humiliation.  Robinson was spat on, injured by other players, called terrible names, and received many death threats.

What set Robinson apart was his self control.  There were other more skilled Negro League players who Branch Rickey could have signed.  However, Robinson was the one man who could perform under such circumstances.  Despite the ridicule of millions, Americans saw a respectable young man and a role model.  This image destroyed many of the black stereotypes that had existed since the turn of the century.  Robinson created a figurative beachhead for activists to end segregation.

Robinson’s legacy still serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of social justice.  Luckily I have never felt discrimination, however, his story has had a personal impact.

I was in second grade when my mom read to me this thin little picture book called Teammates.  Written by Peter Golenbock, this book told the story of Robinson’s hardships, culminating in the famous moment when future Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese stood in solidarity with Robinson amidst the booing crowds at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field.  I was too young to comprehend the gravity of his accomplishment, and unable to comprehend the type of hatred a group of people could have for another.  Two teammates standing side by side on a baseball diamond, regardless of their color made perfect sense.  The relatively new belief in totally equality is what allows his story to remain so potent in our psyche.  It’s shocking to us that an American man could be humiliated by so many people just based on the color of his skin.

Thankfully, Major League Baseball and the United State continue to recognize Jackie Robinson’s achievements.  42 is a perfect example of this continued emphasis.  Like all movies, Robinson’s story is slightly exaggerated and commercialized.  However, it gives the population a new medium to appreciate the story.

Jackie Robinson’s legacy reminds us that there is still plenty of work to be done if we are to create a truly equal society.  People have become complacent, thinking we have reached a utopia of equal opportunity.  In reality, both in America and around the world, the ideas that Jackie Robinson fought for are not being exercised.  This not only goes for minorities in sports, but for any person fighting for fair treatment.

“Jackie Robinson is not only inspiring to African Americans, but to anyone who faces discrimination,” said junior Erica Andrew.

Thankfully the story of Jackie Robinson has not withered with time.  It continues to be acknowledged whether you’re black, white, yellow, purple or striped.

“When I walk into Citi Field I look up at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and it reminds me not only of his sacrifice, but also of how lucky I am to live in a time where people are not limited by their race,” said sophomore Eric Adsetts.  “His life story should be an example for anyone fighting against oppression.”

All one can hope for is that his message of equality continues to grow.