What Would Jackie Say?


It’s been 36 years to the day since he left us, a victim of diabetes and heart disease. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was only 53 when he died, or just six years older than Barack Obama. The pair has been linked in a number of ways, thanks in no small part to Bill Maher’s stating of the obvious. That explanation seems to simple and too basic for anyone who knows anything about Robinson.

He was not a simple man, a cliché or a cookie-cutter icon. He was aRepublican who supported Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy, a decision he said he later regretted. (He initially believed Nixon would do more for Civil Rights than Kennedy. He supported Hubert Humphrey in 1968, if that gives you any idea as to how sorry he was about backing Nixon.) He retired from the Brooklyn Dodgers rather than take a trade to the hated New York Giants, saying at one point that he couldn’t see himself in anything but Dodger Blue, so loyalty was a value he clearly held dear. He could make a stink about things, such his statement that it was up to the people who lived in the North to provide aid to those in the South who were bearing the brunt of the fight against racism. Conversely, he could slip away quietly, as he did when he retired in 1957 without ceremony or fanfare.

The rationale behind almost all of his choices seemed to stem from his role as a “race man,” to use the vernacular of the time. In his final public outing, Robinson appeared before Game Two of the World Series between the Oakland A’s and the Cincinnati Reds. Rather than reflecting on himself or basking in the moment, the groundbreaking son of sharecroppers used his last turn at the microphone to implore Major League Baseball to push teams to hire black managers. Two weeks later, Robinson died. Two years later, the Cleveland Indians hired Frank Robinson, finally breaking the managerial color barrier in professional baseball.

Jackie did Frank no favors and he knew it. By 1974, when Frank Robinson took the field as the Indians’ player-manager, racism was still ever-present in sports.In Terry Pluto’s book, The Curse of Rocky Colavito, Robinson’s agent, Ed Keating, tells the story of he and his family got calls at their house saying, “we know that you are responsible for having that n—– manage the Indians.” The calls kept coming, even threatening Keating’s children, who were no older than 7. The police had to ride the bus with them to school each day. One guy called team president Ted Bonda and threatened to shoot Robinson if he weren’t fired immediately. Robinson was getting hate mail and it seemed like all of this would never stop.

Some would argue that it still hasn’t. The words “terrorist” and “unpatriotic” have become the new “n word.” Depending on who is speaking, Obama is either too black or not black enough. I’m quite certain that while we can all live with out him, Stephen Baldwin isn’t the only chucklehead threatening to leave the country if Obama wins. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/07/01/stephen-baldwin-on-fox-ne_n_110169.html

So what would Jackie say? Probably this:

“I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it–and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.”

In other words, win. Then get to work.

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