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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How Jackie Robinson Earned His Place in History

Harrison Ford stars as Branch Rickey,
owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers,
in the movie "42."

In the movie "42," when Branch Rickey gives Jackie Robinson the opportunity to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, he makes the offer under one condition. Jackie must control his temper when White racists discriminate against him. Robinson will be on trial for the entire world to see, and anything he does that can be cast in a negative light will reflect badly on him, as well as on all Blacks. 

"You want a man who doesn't have the guts to fight back?" Jackie asks.

"No," Branch responds. "I want a man who has the guts not to fight back. The world must be convinced of two things: that Jackie Robinson is a great baseball player, and that he is a fine gentleman."

In the film, one of the strongest verbal attacks Jackie faces comes from Phillies manager Ben Chapman. He stands on the field, calls him all sorts of names, and makes lots of unsavory suggestions about Robinson's relationship with his White teammates. But because Robinson controls his temper, swallows his pride, and gets on with his job, public attitudes change. Soon, the public are cheering Robinson, and jeering the Phillies because of the terrible things Chapman said. So Chapman is forced to publicly apologize, and get his photo taken with Robinson.

Jackie Robinson and Ben Chapman    

He may not want to, but he has to.

At the end of the movie, uninformed baseball fans like me learn two important aspects of Robinson's legacy: 1) Every year in April, all Major League Baseball players wear the number 42 to honor Jackie Robinson's accomplishments, and 2) the number 42 is the only number retired by the MLB. As a White Californian who doesn't follow professional baseball, I won't pretend to understand the recent events in Ferguson Missouri any more than I know the entirety of Jackie Robinson's career. But I like the film's message, that sometimes it's just as important how you win something, as it is that you stand up and do your best every day of your life. That's what I take away from "42."

Dragon Dave

P.S. For superhero and comics fans, Jackie Robinson was played by Chadwick Boseman, who will portray the Black Panther in the 2016 movie "Captain America: Civil War." Sci-Fi fans will recognize the actor who portrayed Ben Chapman was Alan Tudyk, who previously played the character Wash on the cult-favorite TV show "Firefly."

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