Baseball is America’s favorite pastime, but to me, it is more than just a game – as it has taught us many valuable lessons – about winning at the biggest game of them all, the game of life. And that when we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice, we can change the world.
This story about the life of Jackie Robinson made me a believer, so today, I invite you to come with me to the dark days of summer when America was segregated, and so too was the game of Baseball.
Back then, there were the major leagues. The same major league we know today. Then there were the leagues for people of color, the Negro leagues, with great players like Satchel Page, Gosh Gibson, and the legend; James Cool Papa Bell, the fastest man who ever ran the bases.
It was said that Papa Bell could flick a light switch and get into bed before the room got dark. He was that fast. Still, all of Americans never got to see those great players in their prime because of the color of their skin.
It was also a time when the good people from the better side of the tracks did not attend the same schools, worship at the same churches, or drink from the same water fountains. The Jim Crow laws of the day even made that illegal.
And while many of those good people felt in their hearts that segregation was wrong, they remained silent. Some knew the owners’ dirty little secrets and ties to the vigilante groups controlling the game’s revenues. So, to protect themselves and their families, they remained silent. The players of Negro League also remained silent. Choosing to play for the love of the game while the Major Leaguers were celebrated, playing for silver and for gold, with their pictures on beautiful baseball trading cards with statistics far inferior to those of the players of the Negro leagues.
As a kid, I collected baseball cards initially for the bubble gum in each packet. I began collecting by players, teams, and leagues regardless of the color. Then one day, I discovered a card that seemed out of place. The player was Jackie Robinson – the team, the Brooklyn Dodgers.
I even scratched the card’s surface to see if the player’s complexion would change. It “didn’t” – who knew, I might have started scratchers, right? It was then I ran to my Papa, Big George, to ask how Robinson become a Dodger. That’s when Papa gave me the rest of the story.
Son, in 1947, when a retired Baptist Minister, Mr. Branch Rickey, managed the Brooklyn Dodgers; he was adamant that if all men are created equal, they should compete equally on a level playing field regardless of race, color, or creed. But when he invited Jackie Robinson to join the Dodgers, everyone turned against him. Yet, despite all the negative feedback and threats, Mr. Rickie refused to remain silent.
Although Jackie quickly silenced all his critics with his heroics on the field, Robinson soon realized he was invited but not welcomed – when his teammates quietly went to Mr. Rickey to ask that Robinson be removed from the team. But, again, Mr. Rickey refused to remain silent, and Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger.
From that moment, I was inspired! I wanted to be just like Jackie Robinson. I was even more committed when I learned that Robinson’s greatest fear was not the constant death threats he received. Instead, his main concern was how he would perform when he had his first game in the South.
And when that day came, the good people of the Cincinnati Reds did not fail to disappoint. Jackie was called every N-word imaginable. But not once did Robinson say or do anything to disgrace himself or his team.
When the Blue – The umpire shouted – Play Ball! – Pee Wee Reese, a star player beloved by all of Cincinnati, did the unthinkable. He walked over to first base with tears in his eyes to recognize Robinson as his teammate in front of fans, friends, and family. And in that one triumphant moment, baseball became America’s Game.
Today, we proudly stand on the shoulders of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Blanche Rickie, all heroes of the biggest game of them all, the game of life. They proved that we can change the world when we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice. And so today, I ask you – what you will do when next your face injustice. Will you remain silent?
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