Lessons of 42!
29th April 2013 · 0 Comments
By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
I hadn’t seen many movies lately, but I’m glad I saw 42 — the Jackie Robinson Story. Everyone, especially young people, should see it and don’t mind the few cuss words. Nothing will be said that your children haven’t heard before. I cried as I left the theater, but the film’s lessons were worth the tears.
I’d heard many stories about the great baseball player. As far as my daddy was concerned, Robinson was the only player with the Brooklyn Dodgers! At least, that’s all I heard him say when he talked about the Dodgers! He was so proud of Robinson, and when I saw the movie, I knew why. Viewed through a contemporary lens, much of Robinson’s story may be open to question or critique, but his was a story for the ages that provided racial uplift far beyond the baseball diamond.
We can, of course, be grateful for the vision and insight of the late Dodger President and General Manager, Branch Rickey, who was responsible for bringing Robinson into Major League Baseball. Whether his decision to bring Robinson into major league ball was motivated by altruism or profit potential is not relevant at this point. The hiring of Robinson laid another stone in the foundation of social change.
Robinson’s understanding of his place in history led to his being a “model” of patience on the field no matter what was hurled at him. His first at bat was symbolic of what his career would signify to the masses—he hit a “Home Run” in the face of insurmountable odds.
His career was symbolic of another reality. His play and participation took a mediocre team to the pinnacle of popularity and success in baseball, as the work and participation of African Americans in the life of this country brought the U.S. to greatness on the world stage.
Robinson didn’t exhaust his energy fighting every act of racism. He reconciled that there would be those who hated him. He channeled his anger into excellence and achievement that opened doors of opportunity in baseball and society. He’d been given the opportunity to demonstrate his skill, and, picking his fights wisely, he created similar opportunity for others.
Robinson had a temper that could have cost him his chance at success. He was, however, blessed with a wife—his personal support system—who kept him grounded and focused on the rewards of his potential. Just as he overcame the injustice of his military court-martial, he overcame the injustice in professional baseball—and he became a hero for his efforts.
Like Dr. King and other civil rights activists, Robinson faced death threats, but he was not deterred from the goal of promoting the “greater good.” Like others, upon whom leadership was thrust, Robinson quietly went about the business of using his notoriety to create positive change. Until Dr. King came along, Jackie was the hero of non-violence. Unknown to many, he supported Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement—once writing a letter to President John Kennedy expressing the urgency of keeping Dr. King safe. He worked with the NAACP and SCLC and participated in voting rights activities and raised funds for civil rights. Because of who he was, how and what he had done, Robinson became a voice, as well as an image, for civil rights.
There is little doubt that the stress of Robinson’s sacrifices hastened his death. Like King, Evers, and others who died prematurely, he did much to give others a chance. My good friend, Mark Thompson said, “His life should be exemplary for the far too many athletes silent in the face of today’s injustices”, and I would say “Amen!” to that.
This article originally published in the April 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.