The Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)
Guest Columnist: Renford Reese, Ph.D.
April 30, 2013

42: The Great Legacy of Jackie Robinson
A couple of years ago I was a commentator on the Biography Channel’s mini documentary on Jackie Robinson. This documentary captured only a snippet of my thoughts about Robinson’s impact on American society. I recently saw the film, 42, which is based on the true story of Jackie Robinson. The film, like Robinson’s life, was tension-filled, dramatic, and inspirational.

Branch Rickey handpicked Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers and to integrate Major League Baseball. His noble mission was to transcend the race politics of the day and to do what was right for the game and for America. Rickey calculated that his experiment could simultaneously help his team win, integrate Major League Baseball and American society. His bold calculation came to fruition, but not without struggle.

As the first African American to integrate Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson endured incalculable harassment because of the color of his skin. He was ostracized by his teammates. He was constantly heckled with racial slurs, spit on, thrown at by pitchers, and spiked by base runners.

Despite the adversity, Robinson was named the “Rookie of the Year” in 1947. He later won a batting title, an MVP award, and batted over .300 in six consecutive seasons while helping his team win six pennants and a World Series.

Robinson was named to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. His jersey, #42, is the only number ever to have been retired by Major League Baseball. On Major League Baseball’s “Jackie Robison Day,” all players wear the #42 to show deference and respect to the legacy of the great pioneer.

“What can Americans learn from the Jackie Robinson story?” There are different messages for different groups.

For the modern athlete: Embrace your status as a role model in society. Make your life more than just about making money and living the hedonistic fast life. Respect the legacy of pioneers such as Jackie Robinson. Do not take your status for granted. Do something positive to make your community and the world a better place. Like “42,” play and live with humility, character, and substance.

For our youth: Evaluate people based on the content of their character. Be bigger than the bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and bullying that exists around you. Rise up and confront injustice whenever you see it. Be the conscience of the people around you. Be a leader. And, when people tell you “you can’t,” believe in your soul that “you can.” Like “42,” be a person of discipline, restraint, commitment, and integrity.

For our leaders: Be courageous and forthright like Branch Rickey. Consistently do what is right. Take a chance on those who no one else will take a chance on. Be bigger than your “bottom line.” Like Branch, be self-sacrificing and embrace compassion, empathy, and a “can do” spirit into your leadership style.

Jackie Robinson was the right person in the right place at the right time in history to help our nation heal the wounds caused by historic racial injustice. He gave us a template of how we should live our lives. We all have the capacity to live with humility, character, integrity, and substance. We all have the power to be like “42.”

Renford Reese, Ph.D. is a professor in the political science department at Cal Poly Pomona. He is the author of five books and the founder/director of the Prison Education Project:

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