Today we honor one of the legends of Black Excellence. Today is Jackie Robinson’s birthday, and on the eve of Black History Month, I’d just like to pay tribute to perhaps the most important Black athlete (hell, maybe the most important American athlete) of all time.
This was the man who integrated the sport that defined American culture. Years before Blacks could sit down in public with Whites or even use the same doors as them in establishments throughout the South, Jackie Robinson was a force in Major League Baseball, carving out a legacy that saw his uniform number universally retired. Had Robinson been a little less great; had he not had such a perfect blend of athleticism and talent; had he not been able to endure thousands of insults and epithets, I’m not sure how the game would have developed. Yes, he opened the door for others just by his presence, but his historic greatness was the main thing that made integration a necessity rather than a one-shot curiosity. And we can’t underestimate how influential the desegregation of baseball was to the desegregation of America. In some way, all of us who can now go about unencumbered by the strict rules of class, place, and race that Jim Crow and other racist systems dictated owe #42 at least a small debt of gratitude.
I grew up around prime baseball country in Eastern NC. Even down to the Little Leagues, players couldn’t select #42 and they knew why. Even though it turns out that I’m not so great at baseball and watched it through the fence rather than played inside of it, we all knew that Jackie was the patron saint of sorts of what happened on that diamond. Yes, Babe Ruth is the heart of America’s pastime, but Jackie is undoubtedly the soul; the player who embodies the true American-ness of the sport, where supreme talent and hard work trumped every other thing, even supreme hatred. Every bat a Black kid picks up has a piece of his legacy; every base stolen is an offering to his shrine among the Baseball gods. Every player and lover of the game on the planet carries with them a little bit of #42. We tip our caps.
Also, check this out. April 2013. I’m excited.