Monday, April 8, 2013

Jackie Robinson: Basball Icon and Civil Rights Pioneer

The Jackie Robinson biopic, "42", will be released in theaters this Friday.  I thought it would be a good idea to give you some background on Jackie Robinson, the banishment of blacks in Major League baseball and some U.S. historical perspective.
Most people think that Jackie Robinson was the first black player in MLB history.  This is actually not true.  In 1884,  Moses Fleetwood Walker was a catcher for the Toronto Blue Stockings of the American Association(the major leagues of the time).  Walker endured racial slurs and animosity from others including his teammates and was out of a big league job the following year.  With Walker gone, the baseball owners made a "gentleman's agreement" with each other and not sign a black player again.

This agreement was honored by owners for decades even though some players and managers wanted black players in the major leagues.   Two big events occurred that aided in the integration of blacks in baseball.  One was World War II.  By this time, more and more people were asking why aren't black players in MLB and now that they were fighting in the war, it made them wonder even more.  The second was the death of baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  Landis became the commissioner of MLB after the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 to clean the game up from gambling.  He was, quite frankly, a racist and very adamant of honoring the banishment of blacks.  Happy Chandler was hired as the replacement and was part of the group who thought if a person was good enough for war, he was good enough for pro ball.

Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, one of the great innovators of the game, saw this as an opportunity to sign a black player.  Rickey went on to scout the negro leagues to find the right player to sign.  He not only was looking for a player who could physically perform in MLB, but also one who was tough enough to take the racial slurs and abuse from others. If Rickey fails, he could be years before someone else gets a chance.  Rickey decided on Jackie Robinson.
Robinson was not the best player in the negro leagues, but Rickey knew he was the right guy. Robinson was star athlete in college at UCLA in football, basketball and track and was also part of the army during WWII.  Robinson would be able to gain respect from others easier due to his background and mature enough to withstand the racism he would come across.  He was a success and many more blacks followed Robinson into MLB.

In a historical perspective, Robinson breaking of the baseball's color barrier in 1947 was before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and Brown vs Board of Education.  You are probably thinking this is baseball, a game.  But baseball at the time, was THE game in America.  The NBA was nonexistent in 1947 and pro football was only a niche sport - college football was far more popular then and all the schools in the south was still very segregated.  So, everyone who followed sports back then, most likely were baseball fans. Robinson does belong with people who were part of the civil rights movement and Dr. King once said that Robinson made his job a lot easier for him in the civil rights movement.

Today MLB honors Robinson in retiring his #42 uniform number throughout MLB and on April 15(the anniversary of Robinson's Brooklyn debut), every major leaguer wears #42 on their back each year.
I hope I gave you some background for you as you go see the movie. You might be able to understand and enjoy it more.

No comments:

Post a Comment