A History That May Open Some Eyes

Thursday, April 18, 2013

We are hoping that a lot of young people decide to attend "42", the recently-released motion picture on the life of Jackie Robinson.

We are certain that many in the younger generation are not aware of the prevalence of "White" and "Colored" signs in public places such as drinking fountains and theatre entrances in the America of not that long ago.

In watching the movie last week, it struck us how much the racial situation has changed in our nation in a relatively-short time.

It also should serve to slow down some observers when they get a bit carried away with how bad things are now compared to the "good old days". Watching "42" reminds us that life wasn't fair or pleasant for millions of Americans in that supposed golden era.

The timing of the movie is outstanding as every player in the Major Leagues wore number 42 in games played this past Monday. It is the only number retired for all of baseball in tribute to the man who changed the racial makeup of the game and had such a profound impact on civil rights throughout the entire society.

Only one Major League player currently wears No. 42, Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. It is fitting that he is the last player to wear the number, since he also will be a Hall of Famer and is a man of great character. Rivera has announced he will retire at the end of this season.

It is true that Jackie Robinson's career numbers are not at the level of many other Hall of Famers. One factor is that he only played for 10 years. But his athleticism and the way he played the game changed baseball (and other professional sports) forever.

He brought an excitement to baseball that has carried over for more than six decades, while paving the way for African-American and other minority players.

Watching the movie, it is hard to comprehend the mindset of many Americans during that era and the insults and degradation that Robinson had to stoically endure in his role as a pioneer. It is clear that Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, made the right choice in finding the individual to break the color barrier and ultimately help put our nation on a stronger moral compass.

Rickey says in the movie that his motivation was to make money in attracting black fans to the game, but a subsequent conversation with Robinson reveals the courageous owner wanted to right a wrong he had encountered in his earlier days as a player-manager for his college baseball team.

This is a movie that has some outstanding baseball scenes, making it a good traditional sports story, but of course it is much more than that. It details a dramatic chapter of American history and chronicles the life of a man of great personal character and courage. It is an important story for young Americans to know and understand.