22 04 2013

I saw the new movie “42” the other day which was based upon Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier in the sport of baseball back in 1947. I have been a fan of Jackie for most of my life. My Dad who was a Brooklyn Dodger fan as a kid, would tell me many times of that historic season when Branch Rickey dared to go where most others were afraid to venture. He opened the door for a black man to participate in what was up until that time only a white man’s privilege. It took a very strong, talented and courageous individual to be the first through that door and in so many ways- there was not a better man for that task than the great Jackie Robinson.

It wasn’t his athletic ability alone that made Robinson primed for the great experiment. It would also take a man who had an endearing internal strength and the self-discipline to be able to harness all that thunderous emotional passion. Robinson would be beat upon and yet not be able to retaliate in any way. The only other individual that I remember ever taking such abuse was Jesus himself. Jackie literally had to turn the other cheek as he would be verbally torn apart, spiked mercilessly, treated inhumanely and even beaned with baseballs intentionally. And he did so with very few others standing in his corner. Sure he had Mr. Rickey and an amazing wife named Rachel- but his teammates at first were that in name only as many of them made it very clear that they did not want to share a locker room with a black man. In so many ways, the story of “42” shows the ignorance of intolerance and the stupidity of a hatred that has no legs to stand upon.

I still wonder why more individuals didn’t stand up for Jackie but I also question why so many were silent when the Jewish people were so mistreated and literally annihilated with so little public outcry. How can we human beings be so oblivious when we are witnesses of injustice? Why don’t more of us have the guts to stand up and get by the man who should not have to face such foolishness alone? Ever since the first time I read Jackie’s story, I have sensed his loneliness and the unfairness of why such a good man had to put up with so much tomfoolery? It is quite understandable why he aged so early and why he died so young. I don’t think we his fellow man did a very good job of accepting our responsibility of carrying our brother’s burden in this case.

In the Movie “42,” we see a few rare occurrences where his teammates begin to have sympathy for their fellow Dodger. As Jonathan Eig wrote in his excellent 2007 book, “Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season,” both rated the fiery Eddie Stanky as Robinson’s earliest important backer. It was Stanky, Stuart Miller wrote in the New York Times in 2007, who threatened to fight the Phillies when they treated Robinson so awfully early in the 1947 season. During those infamous matchups between the Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies manager Ben Chapman had he and his players berate Robinson with raw and vulgar racial slurs. To this day, the Philadelphia Sports Media still apologizes to Rachel Robinson for the audacious cruelty those Phillies attacked her husband with.

Still Eddie Stanky opened the door for others to step up and do the right thing! The great Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese also became heroic for being humane and understanding when he too publicly displayed that he would not stand against Jackie Robinson! As the story goes, the Cincinnati Reds fans were giving Robinson a particularly tough time as the Dodgers took the field in the bottom of the first. In a show of support, Reese temporarily left his position at shortstop and traveled over to Robinson at first base and put his arm around the rookie, silencing the crowd, which was awed by the act of racial empathy by Reese, a popular All-Star from nearby Kentucky. There is a statue of that moment captured outside of the stadium where the Brooklyn Cyclones currently play out on Coney Island.

It was Jackie Robinson who once said, “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” Too many of us are still doing absolutely nothing when it is within our power to make a difference! We can bring justice and friendship and hope and faith when we decide to step out of our complacent zones and get involved. Prejudice is based upon ignorance and hearsay. To judge a man upon the color of his skin or a label that has been slapped upon him is pure laziness. I choose not to do something just because everybody else is doing it. I want my life to matter and make a statement that I am no better than anybody else. I am a sinner who has been loved by a merciful God who longs to share that same kind of amazing grace and compassion with others. Why is it so hard for us to lead with love?

“42” is a movie that every one of us should see. Sure it is a nostalgic look back to the “hey day” of baseball and I love the fact that Ebbets Field comes alive again! It is a movie that sure made me miss my Dad! But it is a film that reminds us that Jackie Robinson said, “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” Respect is the least of the gifts that we can give one another just because it is the right thing to do! I pray that we would be very liberal in giving away our love and respect for one another!



One response

22 04 2013
Dorothy Hewitt

Haven’t made it to the see the film yet but truly looking forward to it! When I think of baseball and the season can’t help but miss my Mom! She was the baseball queen! Loved her Phillies but certain she did not condone their behavior towards Mr. Robinson! My parents taught us to see people for who they are as individuals not by the color of their skin, nationality or relegion. I was fortunate to have had parents who did not teach hate! Yes, hatred has to be taught, I believe! God must be so sad when he sees how and what we do to each other, his children!

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