Monday, May 7, 2012

Week 19: Jackie Robinson - Pioneer

Barrier Breaker

Full disclosure: I hate baseball. I think it’s one of the most tedious sports to have to watch. Even, though, I frankly have no interest whatsoever in playing baseball, in a free and just society, citizens of all stripes and persuasions should not be barred from participating in any sport they wish to be involved in.

For the longest time, Baseball was a segregated sport. There was Major League Baseball, and then there were the Negro Leagues. While MLB players got to play in state of the art ballparks in front of thousands of cheering fans, with state of the art equipment, players in the Negro Leagues had to make do with small, poorly maintained parks, where they played with substandard equipment in front of miniscule fans.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier which had existed in Baseball since the 1800s. Needless to say, he endured all manner of threats and verbal and physical abuse, sometimes by the fans of his own team. However, he never lost his composure and more importantly, he managed to play the game at an extremely high level. His quiet dignity shamed his racist detractors. 

What I most admired about him was that he always encouraged an increase in the number of players of color in the MLB and he was very active in civil rights pursuits outside of his baseball career. It’s really hard to quantify the depth and breadth of his achievements both within and outside of baseball.
Sports Illustrated had a really poignant article on his impact on the game and the wider cultural milieu. I’ll excerpt a small portion:
Born in Georgia in 1919 and raised in Pasadena, Calif., Robinson was always an elite athlete. The younger brother of Olympic 200-meter silver medalist Mack Robinson, Jackie played baseball, football, basketball, track and tennis at Muir High School.
After his stellar career at UCLA, where met his future wife Rachel Isum, Robinson joined the armed forces in World War II, reaching the rank of junior lieutenant. He played one season (1945) with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues and attracted the attention of Branch Rickey, general manager of the Dodgers.
Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a longtime foe of integrating the major leagues, had died in 1944 and Rickey seized the moment to put baseball -- and the nation -- on a different path.
He invited Robinson to his office in Brooklyn on Aug. 28, 1945. During a three-hour meeting Rickey challenged Robinson to ignore the hatred and race-baiting that surely would come his way if he were to integrate baseball.
In a famous exchange Robinson asked, "Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?"
Rickey answered, "I need a player who has the guts not to fight back."

Read more: here

He was a true great and he deserves all the honors and awards that have been lavished on him.

Greatest quote:
There's not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.


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