By Rich Coutinho
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It was 65 years ago that the single biggest moment in baseball history took place on a little patch of green grass in Brooklyn known as Ebbets Field, a moment that transcended the sporting world and continues to have an impact on society. Of course, it was the day Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier and with it, lifted the curtain on the era of civil rights in the United States.
I think sometimes we take for granted the enormity of that day and at the same time, forget how far we have come since. My Dad, who is now 85 years old, remembers it like it was yesterday and often tells me that people were skeptical about it but also fondly remembers getting his first autograph from Jackie. I never got to meet Jackie but have interviewed his wife Rachel Robinson on numerous occasions who remembers those early days.
“We knew it would be hard and when he went to places like St. Louis it was awful for him because in many ways, Jackie represented their worst nightmare. However, he let it all roll off his back because if he failed, Major League Baseball might have abandoned integration and we knew that going in,” says Jackie’s widow.
So much has happened in our country since that April day in 1947 including landmark civil rights legislation that has paved the way for our first African-American President and the bottom line is Jackie got it all started. Pee Wee Reese, who grew up in the deep South, become lifelong friends with Jackie and that in itself was eventful in 1947.
But the sacrifice Jackie made to bite his tongue among the detractors on integration can not be understated. He held the future of the game in his hands. Many black players thought Branch Rickey could have picked a better player and that is debatable but Rickey has to pick the player with right temperament and both Jackie and Rachel knew that meant thinking less about themselves and more about how important this would be those who would follow him.
The best way to defeat racism is to have the courage to change no matter what the cost. For Jackie Robinson, it likely shortened his life — but it greatly enhanced our lives in ways that are impossible to measure. And that is why today we should honor him no matter what team we root for because Jackie embodied the true American spirit–to get freedom you have to make sacrifices while always understanding that the concept of freedom comes with pain and hardship. And Jackie illustrated that clearly each and every day of his life
What do you make of Jackie Robinson’s everlasting legacy on sport and society? Share your comments below…