For better than 25 years, we have honored the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by celebrating his birthday in January. School children are annually taught his lesson in courage of using peaceful, non-violent methods to achieve equality.
In many homes across our land, Dr. King is revered and considered a hero, as well he should be.
But if not for Jackie Robinson’s monumental display of courage when he integrated our National Pastime, we may never have learned Dr. King’s name.
I was able to catch a matinee performance this week of the new Jackie Robinson movie, ‘42’.
As was the case with the 1950 movie ‘The Jackie Robinson Story’ (with Jackie Robinson playing himself), this version limits itself to his contract signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers prior to the 1946 season (when he played for their AAA affiliate in Montreal), through his rookie year in 1947 with the Dodgers.
The 1950 production treated the rampant racism he faced relatively gingerly, while ‘42’ takes the gloves off and graphically exposes us to what the times were like, and what he endured on a daily basis --- from friends and foes alike.
He had teammates, mostly Southerners, who petitioned to have him dropped from the team. An opposing manager is depicted hurling the foulest of invective at him from atop the dugout steps. He was second in all of baseball in being Hit-By-Pitches in 1947. The Dodgers were refused lodging at one hotel, due to Robinson’s presence on the team.
Throughout his first two seasons with the Dodgers, Robinson was under strict orders from their General Manager Branch Rickey (played reasonably convincingly by Harrison Ford) to never fight back. Rickey didn’t want the first black man to play organized Baseball to be afraid to fight back……he wanted a man with the guts NOT to fight back.
‘42’ provides a new generation of baseball fans and Americans (in the end, aren’t they all one-and-the-same?) a history lesson on how things used to be in our country --- when a black man couldn’t even play Baseball, much less get elected President of the United States --- and the irreplaceable role Jackie Robinson played in helping us become what we are today.
The word ‘courage’ is used a lot when talking about sports. So is ‘hero’.
A golfer sinks a downhill putt to win a tournament, and he is said to have shown courage in the way he steadied his nerves.
A basketball player makes a couple of free throws late in the game, on the road with the roaring crowd trying to distract him, and that’s courage.
A receiver leaps up to catch a pass in the middle of the field, knowing he’s going to get clobbered by a defensive back, and that’s courage.
Do these things enough times and they call you a hero.
Tell you what. Take your kids (middle school age and up) to see ‘42’. Go as a family. On the ride home, talk about the movie with them. Talk about his courage, and talk about the hero he has been to so many people for so many years.
Chances are they had no idea about Jackie Robinson.
Chances are they’ll change their idea of what a hero truly is.
So might you.
There's no question about it.