Robin Roberts, the first black woman sports announcer at ESPN, wished she’d known more about Jackie Robinson.
Felipe Alou, the first Dominican-born manager in major league baseball, keeps a black-and-white photo of Robinson on the wall behind his desk. Robinson’s struggle for equality isn’t lost on Alou.
As New York general manager Bob Watson basked in the glow of the Yankees’ World Series victory over Atlanta last October, he was asked of what he was most proud. He said:
“To be the only minority general manager, the only vice president of baseball operations, on the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson coming up, to be the architect of a world champion. Hopefully, this will open the doors for other minorities to put together a championship club.”
Fittingly, major league baseball opened Tuesday by dedicating the season to Robinson - a half century after he broke the color barrier by appearing in the 1947 opening-day lineup of the Brooklyn Dodgers. A man of courage and integrity, Robinson made it easier for African Americans who followed him into pro baseball.
It was anything but easy for him.
Some of his Dodger teammates hated him. Opposing teams threatened boycotts against him and the Dodgers. He was routinely slurred and thrown at by opposing pitchers. He endured the bigotry with fierce dignity - partly because he had deep internal strength and partly because he’d signed a three-year contract that dictated his behavior. It specified that Robinson couldn’t show any public displeasure for any actions taken against him.
Robinson went on to become the 1947 Rookie of the Year and be honored in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But his greatest contribution was to civil rights, not baseball. Before Brown vs. the Board of Education, before Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, before Martin Luther King Jr. told us about his dream, Robinson endured the full brunt of racial hatred. And overcame it.
As a result, black stars are among this country’s most celebrated athletes today. Ken Griffey Jr., Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders are idolized by kids of all races. It’s hard to hate people when you’re rooting for them.
Robinson’s skill and dignified presence exposed the hatred in America’s pastime - and society as a whole. We owe him. Major league baseball was right to honor his memory. Now, it can do more by opening top management positions to blacks and other minorities.
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