This past weekend Major League Baseball (MLB) celebrated Jackie Robinson’s acts of courage and determination in breaking the color barrier within MLB.
When Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he ushered in a new era of inclusion for players from all walks of life. Of course, as recent events have shown, there is still a long way to go in ensuring equality for all both on and off of the diamonds of life.
While the delay in the start of the MLB season, due to COVID-19, pushed the celebration from the typical April 15 date, it is fitting that the celebration of Jackie Robinson occurred when it did.
Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in the movie 42, died during the Jackie Robinson celebration weekend, which allowed both men to be honored for the contributions they made towards raising awareness for equality.
The delayed celebration of Jackie Robinson’s milestone also came during the same weekend that professional basketball, hockey, soccer, and baseball players all protested racial inequality by refusing to play their sports.
For some teams, not playing meant not even going to the ballpark or arena.
For others, not playing meant lining up as if the game were being played, and then putting a jersey on each side of the batter’s box before walking out.
Other teams even put a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on home plate before returning to the clubhouse.
Whether one calls the actions of the teams a protest, a walk out, or a strike, the fact remains that players across the spectrum of sports used their platform to draw attention to disparities they see within the way people of color are treated. The sports have since resumed, but the rolling demonstrations over the course of the last four days wrote a new chapter in athlete activism.
While the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin was the event that ultimately led to the players’ stand, it was far from the event that lit the match.
The year 2020 has been full of examples of racial inequality that have ignited months of protests from coast to coast.
The political, social, and economic conditions within the country stand at a tipping point where it would not take much to send the country towards another civil war of sorts. Throw in a botched response to a deadly virus that has killed over 190,000 Americans with no sign of slowing down, and you have the makings of a very volatile environment.
When used correctly, social media can be a powerful tool to connect people.
When used incorrectly, as is often the case, social media can be a cancer that attacks the body and sews division and hatred at the speed of light.
To be clear, social media did not cause the ideas of hatred and supremacy on the far left and the far right. Those ideas have been around ever since humans first noticed that not everyone looked the same.
But, social media’s ability to let people post anonymously from their parent’s basement, or from a troll farm on the other side of the world, have allowed misinformation to permeate into society and lead to hateful speech and actions running unfiltered like water coming out of a fire hydrant.
People just accept what they read and hear without fact checking. This is creating bunkers of ignorance on both the far left and the far right. The truth lives in the middle, and very few people seem willing to engage each other in constructive conversation on the issues.
With so many unregulated “news” outlets available through social media, some really absurd ideas are gaining traction in the mainstream that would never see the light of day if people would just stop and fact check from time to time.
Functioning societies are built on the ability to have civil disagreements on issues. While people can disagree on issues, working societies know at the end of the day everyone is in this together whether they drink Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Functioning societies also need reputable news outlets speaking truth to power and holding people accountable.
Prior to 1947, there were no minority players on any of the teams in the highest level of professional baseball. It took an owner willing to do what others wouldn’t in Branch Rickey, and a player willing to withstand insults from on the field and in the stands in Jackie Robinson, to pave the way for those that came behind them.
In this hyper politicized climate where everyone is retreating to their point of view either on the left or the right, it is fitting to take time to honor Jackie Robinson’s sacrifice and to ensure that generations who were not alive back in 1947 can learn the story and know that without the sacrifices of people like Jackie Robinson the world would be an entirely different place.
While rosters are certainly more diverse today thanks to the actions of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, there is still a long way to go to ensure that players from across the ethnic and racial spectrum are provided opportunities to excel in sports.
These efforts include ensuring that all communities have access to quality baseball diamonds, basketball courts, soccer fields, and hockey rinks where people from all walks of life and economic backgrounds have an equal opportunity to learn a sport if they so choose.
In 1997, on the 50th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game, Major League Baseball retired the number 42 on all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. As part of the number retirement players who were still wearing 42 were grandfathered in and allowed to keep wearing the number for the remainder of their careers.
Following Mariano Rivera’s retirement at the end of the 2013 season, no player will ever again wear the number 42 in a Major League Baseball.
Jackie Robinson set the stage for the players who followed him and in honor of that each year players on all teams wear the number 42 to honor him during games played on Jackie Robinson day.
There are still trails to blaze in a variety of areas, and memorials will continue to be built for those individuals who conquer that new ground.
But each new trail that is blazed is built upon the foundation of those who showed the way through their own courage.
Society is currently in one of those defining chapters that historians will debate for decades.
Additionally, many term papers will describe the year of COVID-19 and civil and economic unrest for years to come. We still have time to decide how those papers end.
Is this the time that we let society careen into tribal warfare where people in pickup trucks with flags and paintball guns roam the streets attacking protestors, and vice versa, or do we use this time to heal wounds and build a better society?
As I have noted before, this year I have been constantly reminded of the Native American story of the two wolves. The current state of society is definitely fitting of that analogy. As a reminder the story of the two wolves goes as such.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
History is a great thing to honor, but the promise of the future can be equally exciting as long as we remember to feed the right wolf, and do not cannibalize our society through continued tribalism.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch 42.
Copyright 2020 R Anderson