It is hard not to jump on the bandwagon on a day that celebrates Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in Major League Baseball. I feel like it is overdone to comment, but then it dawns on me that it is more likely under stated, and more people need to see it as a major moment in our history.
Sports worship is way out of control, it is anesthesia, and over produced. It takes up more time than a part time job. Fandom is bordering on gangsterism and the live event has lost the joy that once was shared with children. That’s at the pro level. The tennis parent may have lost ground to the baseball parent, or to the grooming of a 12 year old quarterback, who now has more in common with a figure skating brat than an aspiring Joe Montana. It is hard to defend sports to the bullied alternative kids in high schools across the country, when the Friday Night Lighters are still ruling the roost. And, yet, I still can’t take the con side of the argument of the value of sports in our society, as it relates to race. It’s power to traverse hatred of generations is at a light speed compared to what a mumbling politician pokes at, or a battering ram to the staunch racist codger who ran on a platform of continued oppression.
Baseball put racism on blast seventeen years before it was the law of the land. While that is an appalling statistic it is why credence to the power of teamwork and the shared conditions of team sports, forces us to see each other’s humanity. Similar to the color lines being broken on factory lines with the Great Migration and union brothers forced to unite for common goals, sports and Jackie Robinson stepped first into the dawn that was too long in coming.
The nature of fandom also slid the scale, did you bleed Dodger Blue or only “all white” Dodger Blue, did you use a different color pencil to fill in a run scored by Jackie? Did you begin to see the smooth turn of a double play as good for your squad, or would you give the “out” back because the black guy got the assist? Putting these silly questions to the test illuminated the absurdity of racism and the notions of inferiority and superiority.
The edges have been taken off the story for Hollywood, it seems too long to wait for the story to go before the lens. Yet, the power of the story still moves. It’s the story of love. Love that was dormant for a nation, love that is, perhaps, ebbing in this society, and needs to be mentioned in both large and small print.
I played baseball as poorly as most and maybe a bit worse than that. As a kid, I injured my knee and missed a season that ended with a championship. I sat in the dugout in my knee brace and clapped and supported. We were given championship jackets and I got one. I commented to no one in particular that I didn’t really do anything to deserve the jacket. Our best player, an older, alpha dog, who wasn’t long on sensitivity overheard my lament. He said, “fuck that, you’re part of the team, you were here, you deserve that jacket.” I was and still am grateful for the sentiment. My teammate showed me love. That Jackie Robinson had to wait for that kind of minimal support from his teammates is heartbreaking. As the love began to take over, and humanity stepped in, mirroring itself over the rest of the team, they became champions.
People who carry love as their strength are seldom as vocal as those who carry hate. Days like these have to be force fed, not to sway the haters, but to wake up the lovers. Love isn’t soft, it’s tough and needs equal time with the foul wind that spit at Jackie, or threw at his head, or hurled slurs. Reasonable people need to get loud and start taking unreasonable amount of real estate in the national discourse. That’s what Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, the Dodgers, and the sport of baseball did on this day in 1947.