Tomorrow, April 15, 2017 is Jackie Robinson Day. It marks 70 years since Jackie broke the color barrier for Major League Baseball, becoming the first African American to play in the Major Leagues, after being signed by Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As a life-long baseball fan, I am happy that I have never known the sport without the participation, contributions and impact of African American players. I can remember, as a child of maybe 12, betting my step-father that Babe Ruth was an African American. Of course, I was proven wrong and that is the day that I learned about the Negro Leagues, barnstorming, and Jackie Robinson. It’s also the day that I learned about our country’s history of segregation and separate but equal accommodations. It was a fairly significant day for me, as one may guess. It was a day of mixed emotions, anger, outrage, embarrassment, sorrow, but also learning about baseball and falling in love with the sport.
It was also a day that taught me lessons about how people can change their opinions and thoughts through exposure to new experiences and a better overall understanding of one another. It taught me that, regardless of the color of our skin, our favored religious beliefs or our ancestry, humans are much more alike than they are different. Every person wants love. Every person wants understanding. Every person has fears and every person smiles.
The history of Jackie Robinson is truly fascinating. An American soldier, a multiple sport star at UCLA, a husband and a father. I do not know if Jackie Robinson had it in his mind that he was going to change the world, but on April 15, 1947 that is exactly what he did. He faced unimaginable odds, hardship and, yes, racism. He challenged us all to think differently, act differently and live differently.
Ultimately, baseball is just a game. Ultimately, Branch Rickey just wanted to win games. Ultimately, Jackie was a tool, one of 25 of the team, to help the Brooklyn Dodgers be a winning team.
However, there are events that transcend what is happening on the surface. Jackie opened the door. Had he been a horrible player, completely outmatched, it’s unlikely that he’d have his own day celebrated by every baseball team, with all members wearing Jackie’s number for a day. That number, 42, has been retired across all of baseball, except on April 15th of every year. But Jackie was a superb player and a superb man. His accomplishments on the baseball field played a part in desegregation and a move toward more equal rights.
I bring up Jackie for 2 reasons. He’s been a huge source of inspiration to me as I grew up, facing my own trials and tribulations…I could always think of Jackie and how he persevered though horrors that I can not even imagine, and I could find strength.
The second is to acknowledge that, as people, we still have more work to do in recognizing that people are much more similar than they are different. I want to encourage any that take the time to read this to really think about that. Black, White, Christian, Muslim, Gay, Straight, Democrat or Republican…a universal commonality among all people can be seen in the most innocuous of things; a smile.
Please take a moment to think about that on this Good Friday and Easter weekend. Smile at someone different from you, and I bet they’ll smile back. That simple gesture opens the door to a word of possibilities and can truly expand our collective horizons, if we allow it.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. Go Cubs Go!