Editorial: More than a number
It is good to see audiences responding to the new movie about the rookie season of Jackie Robinson. This is a figure in American history whose contributions to equality and fairness cannot be denied. He endured some of the most hateful and even dangerous situations possible, and he did it with unparalleled grace and dignity.
Sadly, many people today don’t know about this man who wore number 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Young people today are not interested in history. They live for the present. They don’t know or appreciate what was done before them to make their own lives better. Even many professional ballplayers know Robinson only by name, but don’t know his incredible story of strength and endurance in the face of unspeakable hatred and abuse.
Robinson was the first black player in Major League Baseball. Most know that. It was 1947. American was two years out of World War II, yet men like Robinson, who served in the military and represented their country in the great war, couldn’t even get a shot at playing baseball at the highest level.
Not until Branch Rickey, the general manager and part-owner of the Dodgers, chose to pursue the right black man to break the color barrier did the Major Leagues become integrated. And even then Rickey faced opposition from fellow owners, some of whom threatened to keep their players from taking the field if Robinson played.
Nobody boycotted a game, but the horrible things yelled at Robinson from opposing dugouts, the pitchers who purposely threw at his head, the players who tried to spike him on the basepaths, the epithets screamed at him from the stands, the threats on his life, the substandard accommodations he was forced to use while on the road — this represented the worst of American society.
His promise to Rickey was that he wouldn’t fight back. That he did for the first two or three seasons. When freed from the restriction, amid other black players joining professional teams, Robinson proved combative when he had to be. He earned the respect of teammates and opponents. He made it possible for players like Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Hank Aaron, Larry Doby and Roy Campanella to make it to the big show earlier than they expected.
The movie “42” is good. It’s rated PG-13, so it is suitable for most children. The film is showing at Forge Cinemas. Make it a family outing.