Thursday, April 14, 2016

Celebrate Jackie Robinson Day for the right reasons

Jackie Robinson swung for the fence in more ways than one
April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day. It’s an annual date I celebrate with reverence. Not because it honors the first African American to play Major League Baseball (MLB). Instead I recognize this day because it symbolizes a lot of the things that are right about America. And wrong.

              Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson became the first African American to play in the majors during the modern area. He shattered the baseball color barrier on April 15, 1947, when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. This historic moment pivoted American sensibilities.

              Earlier this month, in an apparent effort to atone for the emotionally brutal treatment of Robinson during his visits to the City of Brotherly Love, the Philadelphia city council issued an apology. It came in the form of a resolution and delivered to the wife of the late MLB Hall of Fame player, Rachel Robinson.

Robinson possessed a fierce poise and demand for respect
              According to a Philly newspaper, the resolution stated in part that the City Council recognizes, honors and celebrates April 15, 2016, as a day honoring the lifetime achievements and lasting influence of Robinson. The resolution also speaks to the racism he faced as a player while visiting Philadelphia.

              Back in the sports world, Major League Baseball announced this week that it’s boosting its financial contributions to the Jackie Robinson Foundation and expanding its partnership with the organization.

              According to reports, the commitment includes funding 30 four-year Jackie RobinsonFoundation scholarships. That’s one scholarship representing each MLB team. A $1 million contribution is also being made to the Foundation’s Jackie Robinson Museum project.

              The gesture is a relatively small one in light of baseball’s foul treatment of black athletes in earlier years, but nevertheless commendable.

              The National Association of Baseball Players, the first organization governing American baseball, was formed in 1867. Black athletes were banned. Records are sketchy, but according to Negro League Baseball, several African-American players may have been active on the rosters of white minor league teams in the late 1870s.
Behind every successful man...
              In historical context, the possibility of black persons in baseball at some level is somewhat conceivable. Consider: just after slavery was abolished in 1865, the Reconstruction Era was witness to significant social and political revolution – when ideals associated with the American Dream included formerly enslaved black people.

              A significant number of African Americans were elected to local, state, and national offices. Some perspective: at the beginning of 1867, no African American in the South held political office. Within four years, around 15 percent of Southern lawmakers were black – a larger percentage than in 1990, according to author James M. McPherson in 1992’s Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution.

              In Southern states between 1870 and 1876, there were 633 black State Legislators, two black U.S. Senators (in Mississippi!) and 15 black U.S. Congressmen. This, according to author E. Foner (Reconstruction: America's unfinished revolution, 1863–1877).

              Then the walls came tumbling down. Hateful and murderous policies, sanctioned through government backed Jim Crow laws of segregation and discrimination, obliterated early reforms toward racial equality. So much for the American Dream.

              Two steps forward, one step back.

              This history lesson is important, to America and baseball, because it set the tone for what was in store for folks like Robinson - the first persons of color in their respective fields. Like many, he was mythologized (as was Dr. King) as a black man who passively turned the other cheek in the wake of racism. In reality, like Dr. King, Robinson was a fierce agent of social change who used his celebrity to speak out against discrimination.

              With the stroke of a pen Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger and first black man in Major League Baseball. That was just the beginning. He, along with his family endured a heinous racist gauntlet. Robinson’s middle passage to acceptance was pocked by unimaginable acts of loathing and prejudice and discrimination – all because of the color of his skin. Color many white people today insist they do not see.

              Instead of claiming to ignore a person’s distinctive attributes (like color), why not instead hold those differences close. Use it as a means to reclaim all the wonder and diversity of human beings. Ultimately, it’s what binds us together. The fear is what tears us apart.

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at

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