Jackie Robinson’s baseball talents make him one of the top ball players of all time. But his willingness and discipline to turn the other cheek and ability to use sports as a weapon in the battle against racism makes him a hero.
Robinson did what no other man has done on this world – he was the first African American baseball player to suit up in the major leagues in the 1900s. He started on first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
In the recently released movie ’42,’ Robinson’s hurdles were accurately put on display. He was essentially sent out on the field as a sheep among wolves. Since he was the minority and many racists didn’t want him there, he couldn’t fight back. If Robinson would have, it would have given them a reason to kick him out of the league and paint a picture of him as the bad guy. He had to turn the other cheek after every racist remark, snicker, and slander that came from his opponents, teammates, fans, umpires, and everyone else who had a problem with different races mixing.
You have to remember, Robinson didn’t have to make that controversial jump to the majors to earn a living playing baseball. He was previously playing in a Negro baseball league, earning $400 per month. That doesn’t seem like much money, but it’s calculated out to be over $5000 a month in 2013 money. When he signed with the Dodgers, his salary was bumped up by $200 a month. Obviously, this was a hefty raise in that time period, but one he could have easily managed without.
While playing for the Dodgers, Robinson opened a lot of people’s eyes. As they got to know him and saw how he handled himself, many realized people of different races and cultures aren’t that different. His example broke stereotypes and got the ball rolling for other non-whites to make the majors.
It’s easy to say, ‘well if I was around back then, I would have cheered him on.’ But in reality, that might not have been the case. In most stadiums, if not all, you would have been ostracized. Only those with the guts to go against the grain would have.
In Canada, we haven’t had near the racism as the southern United States. However, our country has its share of blood on its hands. It’s somewhat the elephant in the room that not a lot of people like to acknowledge, but it’s still visibly there with how aboriginals and other races have been treated. As Mary Flannery O’Connor put it – “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
No one is born a racist, though. It is something that is taught or learned because of ignorance, envy, and stupidity.
Nelson Mandela, who is known for his efforts against racism in South Africa, described perfectly the hope for our society to overcome views based on hate.
‘I had never lost hope that this great transformation would occur, because I always knew that down deep in every human heart there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. If people can learn to hate they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.’
Racism will always be around. That’s the cold hard truth. But as long as we continue what pioneers such as Robinson started, racists will become a smaller minority with every passing day.