Why Jackie Robinson’s story still resonates 75 years after his MLB debut

FIVE YEARS AGO, in one of my eldest daughter’s first Little League games of the season, I noticed her first bounce on every field. Obviously she was copying someone, and the only game she saw me playing at the time was the Hall of Fame game when she was 3 years old, she definitely wasn’t copying me.

She continues to steal a base whenever she can.

When forced to explain her sudden love affair with base-stealing and all-court attacking, she omitted one name:

Jackie Robinson

Before that baseball season, my daughter, who turns 13 this year, watched the movie “42” at home, with her parents on high alert. We wondered if it was appropriate for her age, but we also knew Robinson’s story was too important to miss the opportunity to share through a medium that could speak so well to the world. This fanbase: entertaining movies.

By this point, our four children – one son and three daughters – have had a rough and personal understanding of some of the dynamics of race in America: that sometimes the weight and power of life Race to knock you down, no matter how prepare you to think you can be. But we still prepared them for a depiction of the horrors of Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman, as well as how spring training in Florida would put Robinson and his family under constant threat.

The film was a hit, as demonstrated by my daughter’s imitation of the diamond. All of my children will become fans of baseball player Jackie Robinson in no time, but for me and my wife it is up to me to tell them the complete Jackie Robinson story. People testify in court, march in the streets, open banks. Jackie Robinson wants equality which means an open door for everyone to play baseball – or do anything else.

Robinson spent his later life making an impact in other areas of American life. He has no intention of stopping his progress at the first base, and his post-baseball efforts have become an extension to the career of the Hall of Fame, hitting the conscience of the board, political elites and powerful institutions, including the MLB. When he retired, the line he crossed was not the finish line but the starting line. His integration with baseball was an early domino for later civil rights, and even without the bat in hand, he was part of it. This fuller picture of Robinson helps shape just how important he is still 75 years after he joined Major League Baseball: It’s the kind of change that reverberates and lasts.

LIKE MY CHILD, I was introduced to the story of Jackie Robinson when I was growing up in New Jersey. His story has always been bigger than life for me, as it is for so many kids, young baseball players, and black America as a whole. Jackie and his family are royalty to us and somehow they still feel close in every way. But I was lucky enough to get even closer thanks to the opportunity Jackie gave me – a chance to play major league baseball.

I met his widow, Rachel, for the first time right before the 1991 MLB. As a 20 year old, seeing her took my breath away.

When I was playing for the Phillies in 1998, Jackie’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, embarked on a tour inspired by their family’s principles. It’s called “Breaking the Barriers,” and one of the principles is education, so big jumpers will join Sharon in classes to talk about Jackie’s story (the show still exists). until today). I was chosen to meet her in Philadelphia, the city where I went to college and where I was playing, to meet the students. The opportunity was surreal – it took me a while to understand what it meant to be Jackie Robinson’s representative, to know that his daughter would share my story with the next generation… to know. that I became a part of of them story.

I’ve done extensive media work sharing the Robinsons’ story over the past two decades, including an interview with Rachel in Cuba in 2016, and it’s always been a bit desperate, because I worried about how Jackie Robinson’s legacy would last. This is one of the greatest American stories ever, but like any story, it can fade with time. A big step forward in maintaining it is sharing it with kids young enough to be his great-grandchildren.

I’ve seen the effects of this first-hand, after speaking with players on UCLA’s baseball team, a team Jackie played during his college days as an athlete. promote four sports. In preparation for the game between Stanford and UCLA on Jackie Robinson Day today, I interviewed the two sons of my former teammate, Eric Karros. I learned how much they knew about Jackie, and how committed their coach, John Savage, was to telling his story.

Then came the day when my personal connection with the Robinsons extended to my own family. After meeting Sharon on that trip two decades ago, it became a more established friendship. A few years ago, the two of us were playing tag on the phone, and by chance she called back while my eldest daughter was in the car. So they had a conversation. For me, it was an enjoyable experience – listening to them talk about gymnastics and their childhood, the two daughters of a leaper sharing notes. I just got out of the way.

In that moment, for my daughter, Jackie Robinson went from history to family.



Father Jesse Jackson explains how Jackie Robinson inspires him by challenging the hurdles in baseball and beyond.

PARTS OF Robinson’s enduring story is a universal example of what we seek from the world: conformity, respect, inclusion, fairness. Robinson did it with grace, fire, exceptional talent and a message of seeking equality for all.

It makes it possible for him to do this through sport – as Kyle Karros said in my interview from the UCLA miner. “It wasn’t like he was just a great athlete,” Karros told me, “it was that he stood for a lot more than just baseball… he used baseball as a sport. means to influence so many people, and that’s ultimately what we should strive to do, leaving a lasting positive impact on the world we enter. “

Baseball gave Robinson a microphone, and he used it to confront and change the world, not just to amplify his personal success on the field.

This is a great lesson for any generation.

Sharon has written several books about her father’s family and legacy, one of which is a memoir about the year she turned 13 (“The Child of Dreams: Memoirs of 1963”) and another. (“House Robbery: Jackie Robinson’s Daughter’s Intimate Family”) about their family life during her father’s “retirement” – it was really anything but. (As Jackie wrote in a letter to Dwight Eisenhower: “I have become more aggressive since I stopped competing.”) They face the same challenges as any family with a father. always traveling for work, being pulled in so many directions.

An entire nation – including Martin Luther King Jr. and a long list of US presidents – headed to her father. But he will cherish his days as a father with his daughter in New York. And he’ll take the time to test the ice on their lake to see if it’s frozen enough for her to skate. To this, Sharon will write one of the best passages I’ve ever read, in “House Theft”:

Dad’s official job is to test the ice on the lake to determine how safe it is to skate. Us kids lined up along the beach and shouted words of encouragement as Dad headed out into the snow. Before placing one big foot in front of the other, he would tap the ice with the broom handle. After what seemed like an eternity, Dad would go to the deepest part of the lake, give one last knock with his stick, then turn to us and call, “Go get your skates!” I thought Dad was very brave.

Now I think it’s even more. He was as brave then as he was when he entered baseball, an achievement that has taken me years to appreciate. I slowly understood what it meant for him to break the baseball color line, to have the courage to let him go into uncharted and dangerous waters. He must have felt himself walking on an unventilated road like a blind man, searching for clues. That’s Jackie Robinson. And that was my dad – big, heavy, out there alone on the lake, knocking his way so the ice would be safe for us.

And he can’t swim.

It was 75 years before Robinson played his first game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier for the first time in a major professional sport. It is also a world event, helping to kickstart the integration of a nation and inspiring all who understand the pain of trying to cross a line of color. The line was more like a wall, covered with barbed wire, but Robinson managed to climb it anyway.

He’s tried the ice for all of us, through his bravery, through moments of doubt, about love, about disappointment – the path to social change is never linear. He did all this not only for his children, but for the children of his dreams. He also left messengers to parents, mentors and coaches, who knew that for all his accomplishments, he was at the core of always trying to be a better father. , because that love always lasts.

My daughter would go on to steal more than 30 bases during that Little League season – by my count as an admittedly biased third-rate coach. She jumps from point to point, often grabbing another on a pass or a long throw. After realizing that only a few kids could throw hits consistently, she stopped swinging, deciding it was her best chance to hang on and show what she could. do. She ended the season as a girl with two outcomes: walk away or step out in search.

I told her her strategy was right, but she wouldn’t be able to sustain it much longer – in the coming seasons the opposing pitchers would be better. However, it doesn’t matter to her. Once you feel like Jackie Robinson, you will always be Jackie Robinson. Why Jackie Robinson’s story still resonates 75 years after his MLB debut

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