Jackie Robinson Day is a day to celebrate both the man and the obstacles he overcame to have a lasting impact both on baseball and American society. April 15, 1947 was the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson and the Dodgers hosted the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. The game itself is not what is important about that day; rather it is the change to American society on that day on a baseball diamond in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
Over the next 10 seasons, all spent with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson displayed what it meant to be a man. Robinson deserves a place in the National baseball Hall of fame simply for his contributions to the game. The Hall of Fame worthy numbers he amassed during his career only push him further up the list of greatest baseball players of all time. Robinson’s importance has nothing to do with his statistical accomplishments; greatness does not always show up in the box score. Greatness is facing your challenges head on and overcoming them with grace.
Robinson faced the worst that society had to offer; the derogatory remarks, the threats of physical violence, the constant verbal and psychological abuse came from fans in the stands and opposing players and coaches. The task of playing professional baseball is difficult enough, without the constant barrage of hostility from those who could not see past their own racism. Yet, through it all, Robinson remained professional and committed to the game he loved. Robinson showed baseball the error of its ways, that barring African-Americans from playing in the Major Leagues had been a colossal mistake. Robinson was not the best player in the Negro Leagues during his brief time there; rather he was a prime example of the talent that was excluded from Major League rosters because of people who thought a person’s skin color mattered more than their ability.
Jackie Robinson, like so many African-Americans, served his country admirably during World War II. They fought, and died, to defend the freedoms of people in Europe and Asia, while at home they were treated as second-class citizens. Robinson defended his country but was forced to defend himself against trumped up charges in a court-martial based on the bigoted ideas of other soldiers. He was ultimately cleared of all charges, but this experience in the Army served as an introduction for what Robinson would later face in the Major Leagues.
The abuse, verbal and psychological, that Robinson, along with the other early African-American players, sought to strip them of their humanity. The United States is better off because of Jackie Robinson. His contributions continue to reverberate nearly seven decades after he first stepped on to a Major League field. He showed that the color of a person’s skin was not relate to their worth as a person. The Civil Rights Movement built upon Robinson’s legacy and pushed for equal rights for all. The drive for equality continues today. The end of the segregation in baseball and the signing of bills into law does not mean the fight for equality is over. Rather it means attention is being paid to the problem. Change happens a little at a time, and it requires those who are suffering to behave with the same steadfastness and grace that Jackie Robinson did. Changing people’s misconceptions is difficult, and these beliefs are reinforced when they are ridiculed. Jackie Robinson did not lash out at those who challenged him. He maintained his dignity, and proved that the color of his skin did not make him better or worse than anyone else. Robinson probably had his private moments of doubt, like we all do, but he was strong enough and willed himself to greatness. Greatness that does not appear in a box score. The type of greatness that continues to have an impact almost 70 years later.