Today, 67 years ago, Jackie Robinson took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in sports–he was the first black to integrate professional sports in the USA. Many of you probably don’t know anything about baseball. Many of you probably don’t know who Jackie was. Most of you probably don’t know that this was the probably the most important event in America’s, if not the world’s, racial relations.
Jackie Robinson was an incredible man by any measure. He went to UCLA, even though few blacks went to university, even in mostly integrated California. He joined the United States Army during World War II, and because one of the few blacks who were able to get into Officer Candidate School, which trains new commissioned officers in the Army. Even though he couldn’t deploy with his battalion to Europe during the war because of racism in the Army, he served until he was honorably discharged.
When Jackie played baseball, he was assaulted by more hatred and bigotry than any normal person probably could endure. When the Dodgers would go to southern cities like St. Louis or Atlanta, he was treated horribly by the racists of the time. In fact, his treatment in presumably more liberal cities in the north was hardly different from what he experienced in the racially segregated South.
Jackie Robinson handled the racism, the taunts, and the hatred with a dignity and grace cannot be describe in words. And he lived through all of this, while being one of the stars of baseball, one of the greatest who ever played the game.
But, it was just sports. How could that be so important? Because I can draw a straight line from Jackie breaking the race barrier of baseball directly to electing Barack Obama as President. The racism that we read on the back roads of the internet against President Obama is probably the same that Jackie heard. And both men stood above it.
I personally have lived in a glorious time in the world. Where science has begun to conquer ignorance, despite my most cynical moments. Where we can conquer diseases that used to kill. Where we can dream of putting men on Mars. And where a person’s color means nothing, and they can be president.
No, I am not naive. I don’t think the world of race is filled with rainbows and unicorns. I still hear overt racism amongst whites. I still run into horrifying anti-Semitism amongst people who should have learned their lesson of the destructive power of racial hatred in World War II.
But today, I watch sports, and I don’t care if someone is African-American or Hispanic or Asian or Jewish or a good old white Euro-American. Frankly, I want my team to win. When I was in the corporate world, I only cared if a person was ambitious and intelligent and demanding of success. Your skin color mattered not. I wanted to win market share and increase profits, and a person’s color was irrelevant to my desire to win.
And my attitude, my feelings toward my fellow man, are in a direct line from a man who played baseball well before I was born, or even had any interest in the sport. And every person of color in sport today, whether its baseball, football (American or otherwise), hockey, basketball owes their livelihood to Jackie Robinson. I can even draw a line from Jackie Robinson starting in the game of baseball to Neil deGrasse Tyson teaching us all about the universe. And we’re all better for this.
So even if you don’t like baseball, or don’t even know anything about the sport. Or if you don’t like sports in general. We should all honor Jackie Robinson for his courage, dignity, and perseverance–he gave us a slightly more wonderful world.