The 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball was a week ago yesterday, April 15th. Baseball did (I think) a good job of celebrating it. And more importantly, baseball and baseball players did a good job of using the moment as a starting point on talking about race in the sport today, and the impact of Jackie Robinson throughout all of sports.
However, I do have to disagree with a few of the things that have been said. There was an article in ESPN Magazine that had three black baseball players discussing what they see happening and what they hope will happen. It is a good article (I think that ESPN put it online. You should try and check it out). This morning, I read an article in the Baltimore Sun by David Steele. Here is a link to it...
This article is akin to the one in ESPN Magazine, it that it took three black ballplayers (this time 3 Orioles) and had them talk about their lives as black ballplayers in today's game and what could be done to preserve the legacy in the future.
I am finding it hard to find the exact words to describe the way I feel about one little part of the article. I used "disagree" before, and it is the most direct way to say it, but it almost seems harsher than I would like. However, if I had a better command of the English language (or a thesaurus sitting on my desk) I would do better. We shall just have to keep moving forward.
I also want to say that I am a big fan of David Steele. His commentary is one of the first things I scan for in the Sun in the morning. I find his writing to be refreshingly unpretentious, and very well thought out. Rational arguments for or against a certain topic, and even if I do not agree with him, I always feel better about my views after I have compared them to his. And that is the God's honest truth. But to the matter at hand, his saying that baseball is striking out at preserving Jackie Robinson's legacy because of a dearth of black baseball players is, to me, missing the point and one of the real lasting impacts of what he did for all of sports. What Jackie Robinson did was to show the world that the color of your skin, that where you are from means nothing. God given talent and hard work deserve to be rewarded by going as far as they can take you against the best competition the world has to offer. It is my opinion that without Jackie Robinson, there would have been no Texas Western, no Jim Brown, ...the list goes on and on. I do think that eventually the color line would have been broken, but it probably wouldn't have happened until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. I also think that the Civil Rights movement would have suffered and would have had a harder road if Jackie Robinson had not been the man that he was. By that I mean that I think that it had to be at least in the back of some white people's minds that this black man is just as good as the white guys, and that any thought of natural inferiority was, if not broken, at least dented. And to black men and women everywhere he was a symbol, a rallying cry that they deserved to be on the same field as white people, whether that field was literal like a baseball field, or metaphorical like having a level playing field for things like work, housing, restaurants, bathrooms, and public transportation. The importance of Jackie Robinson's actions can never be overestimated.
But Jackie Robinson was not just fighting for black people. He was fighting for any group that has been repressed. He was fighting for the God given right to follow your dreams wherever they lead. The number of black players in baseball has dropped precipitously over the last 25 years, but the number of black players in other sports has risen noticeably. Football and basketball are well documented, but what about soccer? What about hockey? THAT is the lasting legacy of Jackie Robinson. He wasn't just playing for blacks in baseball, he was playing for anybody held back from playing a game because of their skin color or their nationality. Here is an interesting little article that mentions how Jackie Robinson's actions helped open the doors for other players...
I do agree 100% that every effort should be made to get more inner city kids to play baseball. But I also feel that every effort should be made to get inner city kids to play football, and soccer, and track and field, or any other sport out there. I do believe that sports builds character and teaches young men and women how to interact with each other and how to compete and to strive to be their best. Having a vested interest in sports while in school can lead to better attendance and grades, and a sense of accountability with teammates which can transfer to a sense of accountability to family and friends. But the legacy of Jackie Robinson says that a child can choose whatever sport he or she wants and not have to worry about being denied because of race. The article talks about how players need to get out there and interact with the kids, get them interested. By all means please do that. Go out there every chance you get and show kids wherever you are the beauty of baseball. Find places to let them play. Teach them stickball, like kids played for years in the city when there wasn't a baseball field they could go to. Help organize a team in your community and sponsor them. If there is something you love to do, no matter who you are or what race you are or what it is, you should share that passion with as many kids as possible. Any chance you have to reach out and motivate even one child to try and be their best at something should make every other thing you do worth it.
To me, that is the enduring legacy of Jackie Robinson.