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Sports Commentary 4/12/13

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Scott looks at the Movie “42”

A SPECIAL MAN

Before Rosa Parks asserted her rights as an American, before Martin Luther King showed the courage to take a message of peaceful resistence and universal acceptance before the nation, a young black man who’s greatest love was baseball courageously showed the world that there are no separate levels of society, every man deserves to be treated as an equal.  Jackie Robinson had few examples to draw on when he agreed to publicly take up the mantle of an entire race.  He knew it wouldn’t be easy, he was told as much by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, but no one could have known just how difficult it would be.  “I want a player with the guts not to fight back”, Rickey challenged Robinson when he offered him the chance to become the first black player in Major League Baseball.  Today a motion picture celebrating the most critical juncture in the life of Jackie Robinson, the man who had the guts not to fight back, to make the road smoother for all who would follow, will open in theaters nationwide.  The timing coincides with the 66th anniversary of Robinson’s major league debut.  On Monday, the anniversary date, every player in Major League Baseball will wear Robinson’s number, 42.  When Yankee closer Mariano Rivera retires at the end of this season, taking his grandfathered number with him, the annual celebration of Robinson will be the only time 42 will ever again be worn in baseball.  The importance of Jackie Robinson can never be overstated.  Rickey can be accused of giving Robinson a chance only because he could help the Dodgers win.  He was right, Robinson had special talents, special speed, a special hitter’s eye and a sense for the game, but Rickey had a social conscience.  There were more heralded players he could have selected from baseball’s “Negro League”, most were stunned it wasn’t Josh Gibson who got the chance.  Rickey understood it wasn’t about winning baseball games, it was about all of us, and we needed a leader, a great man, more than a great baseball player.  For the burden he carried, no baseball player ever stood taller than Jackie Robinson.  He suffered the racial slurs, the indignities of other ballplayers and ignorant fans, but he stood above it all, always living up to the challenge from Rickey, not to fight back.  There were teammates who helped him through the greatest trials ever faced by a professional athlete, Pee Wee Reese’s gesture of public acceptance is well known, but this was about Jackie Robinson.  None of us will ever know what Jackie knew, how alone a man can be.  I was weaned on baseball at Ebbett’s Field.  By the time I arrived Jackie was no longer alone and I had no idea.  He was one of my heroes, as were “Campy” and “Newk”.  I didn’t know then that there was a time when they couldn’t have been.  Rickey’s challenge to Robinson challenged society and everybody won, because Rickey was right, Jackie Robinson was a special man.  Over the next few days we’ll celebrate his legacy, with a movie made in time for Rachel Robinson to see her love story come to the screen and with a celebration that encompasses every man who today wears a major league uniform.  Jackie Robinson’s is a story of courage in the face of a hostile society, enough courage to change that society.  Baseball is just the background.  With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

 

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