On a recent flight back to Newfoundland, I watched a movie called “42” which is the story of Jackie Robinson (#42), best known for becoming the first black major-league baseball player of the modern era. Manager, Branch Rickey intentionally searched for a black player and the story unfolds. As I watched, I could sense the excitement that Robinson must have felt, being the first black chosen to be in the major leagues.
He was a talented athlete but is that the only reason Rickey selected him? I became very intrigued as the movie progressed because it really demonstrated that the choice was also because of his ability to turn the other cheek. Sure, it was about winning, so the team needed talented players, but actually, it was more about bringing change in the sport and influencing a nation.
The Brooklyn Dodgers were scheduled to play in Philadelphia, (ironically the city of brotherly love). However, the home team refused to play simply because Jackie Robinson was on the team. The two managers exchanged words:
“You cannot bring that boy down here with the rest of your team.”
Rickey responded, “Why is that?”
“We are just not ready for that sort of thing in Philadelphia. I’d like to know what it is you are trying to prove!”
Rickey responded with an odd question, “You think God likes baseball, Herb?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means someday you’re gonna meet God, and when He inquires as to why you didn’t take the field against Robinson in Philadelphia and you answer ‘It’s because he was a negro,’ it may not be a sufficient reply.”
I found it interesting that Rickey brought God into the argument to show that the way Robinson was being treated was very displeasing to God. The reality is Jackie Robinson was not only chosen because of his athletic ability but the colour of his skin and his willingness to resist the attacks that Rickey knew would come.
When Robinson asked why he did it, Rickey explained that he loved this game of baseball and that he had given his whole life to the game. Then he referenced the past unfairness he saw when he was a player and their Negro catcher, Charlie Thomas, “a coloured boy was laid low, broken, because of the colour of his skin and I didn’t do enough to help. I ignored it.” He continued, “There was something unfair at the heart of the game I loved, but the time came I could no longer do that.” As a manager Rickey chose Robinson to bring change to the game. He told Jackie how he watched some kids playing and said, “I saw a little white boy up at bat … you know what he was doing? … pretending he was like you … little white boy pretending he is a black man. You made me love baseball again. Thank you!”
Branch Rickey was motivated to bring Jackie Robinson into the major leagues, not just to win the pennant but to influence culture. It is said of Jackie Robinson that he helped change attitudes and led the team in more ways than one! In fact, in the baseball world, April 15 is “Jackie Robinson Day” when players wear the #42 on their jerseys in honour of this Hall of Fame hero!
Back to our vacation … Typically when we travel, we try to have a reason beyond just rest and relaxation. On this trip, we were able to visit with some old friends that we hadn’t seen for many years. I believe our visit helped to lift spirits more than we actually realize. Our trip back “home” was very fulfilling, mainly because it wasn’t just about us having a good time; we were able to have a positive influence on others. Remember, in all you do, life is not meant to be only about you!
Be sure to listen to this song at the end of the movie!! Take a few minutes to watch and listen.