Why is Jackie Robinson narrative still relevant
Why is Jackie Robinson narrative still relevant 75 years after he made his Major League Baseball debut?
FIVE YEARS AGO, I Observed my eldest daughter jumping about at first base on each pitch during one of her first Little League games of the season. She was clearly emulating someone, and she wasn’t copying me because the only game she’d seen me play in at the time was the Hall of Fame game when she was three.
She then continued to steal a base whenever she had the opportunity.
When probed for an explanation for her apparent fondness for stealing bases and pushing aggressively on every pitch, she mentioned one name:
Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American
My daughter, who will turn 13 this summer, had seen the movie “42” at home before the baseball season, with parental protection on high alert. We debated whether it was suitable for her age, but we believed Robinson’s story was too important to pass up an opportunity to tell it via a medium that resonates with this generation of moviegoers: film entertainment.
By this time, our four children — one boy and three girls — had a basic awareness of some of the racial dynamics in America: that the weight and strength of race can knock you off your feet, no matter how prepared you believe you are.
We did, however, prepare them for the portrayal of Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman’s wretchedness, as well as how Florida spring training would depict Robinson and his family being constantly threatened.
My daughter’s impersonation on the diamond revealed how much the movie connected with her. All of my children became instant fans of Jackie Robinson the baseball player, but it was equally vital to my wife and me to teach them the whole Jackie Robinson narrative. The person who testified in court, marched through the streets, and started a bank. Jackie Robinson wanted equality to mean that anyone could play baseball — or anything else for that matter.
Robinson spent the rest of his life extending his influence to other aspects of American society. His post-baseball endeavours became an extension of his Hall of Fame career, striking the conscience of the board room, the political elite, and power organisations, including MLB. He crossed a starting line rather than a finish line when he retired. Baseball’s integration was an early domino in the civil rights triumphs that would follow, and he was a part of them even when he wasn’t swinging a bat. This more complete picture of Robinson helps to explain why he is still important 75 years after breaking into Major League Baseball: It was a thoughtful gesture.
Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, embarked on a tour inspired by their family’s values when I was playing for the Phillies in 1998. “Breaking Barriers” was the theme, and one of the tenets was education, so major leaguers would join Sharon in schools to discuss Jackie’s tale (the programme still exists today). I was picked to see her in Philadelphia, where I attended college and was playing at the time, to meet with students. It took me a while to process what it meant to be a representation of Jackie Robinson, to know that his daughter would tell my tale to the next generation… to know that I had become a part of their story.
Over the last two decades, I’ve done substantial media work presenting the Robinsons’ story, including an interview with Rachel in Cuba in 2016, and there’s always been a sense of desperation because I’m concerned about Jackie Robinson’s legacy. It is one of the greatest American stories of all time, but like other stories, it fades with time. Sharing it with children as young as his great-great grandkids is a huge part of keeping it alive.
After chatting with guys on the UCLA baseball team, a squad Jackie once played on as a four-sport athlete in college, I’ve seen firsthand the impact this has. I interviewed two sons of my old teammate, Eric Karros, in preparation for calling the game between Stanford and UCLA on Jackie Robinson Day today. I found out how much they knew about Jackie and how dedicated their coach, John Savage, was to conveying his story.
Then there was the time when my personal bond with the Robinsons grew to include my own family. It has grown into a more solid bond since meeting Sharon on that trip two decades ago.
We were playing phone tag a few years ago, and she happened to call back when my eldest daughter was in the car. As a result, they had a discussion. Listening to them chat about gymnastics and their childhoods, two daughters of major leaguers exchanging notes, was a mind-blowing event for me. I simply moved out of the path.
Jackie Robinson went from history to family for my daughter at that time.