Sunday, April 15, 2007

Take time to remember Jackie Robionson today

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the day that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball and became the first African American to play in the big leagues.

The day is historic in many respects, the least of which may be the baseball side of it. By overcoming numerous hurdles including verbal assaults, death threats, and strong opposition from every corner of the country, Jackie paved the way for blacks to become integrated in all walks of American society, not just on the baseball diamond.

Ten years ago today MLB retired the uniform number Jackie wore for all those years with Brooklyn, #42; the only active player to currently wear the hallowed number is Mariano Rivera, who was grandfathered in and allowed to retain possession of it. But thanks to an idea brought to the commissioner's attention by Ken Griffey Jr, any player will be able to wear the number today as a tribute to the legendary Robinson.

Those two along with many others, including the entire Dodger's team, will get to pull on what may have become the most famous uniform number in baseball history. If the number isn't the most famous (a certain #3 also comes to mind), it is certainly the most significant.

But since that announcement some players, most notably Torii Hunter of the Twins, have come out and said that by so many players wearing the number without really knowing what Jackie meant to the game, they are belittling it and him in the process.

I say bullshit, Torii. If the commissioner agrees and every friggin' player in MLB wants to wear it, so be it. If they don't know the significance of the number, so be it again. The purpose of allowing players (and coaches, such as Boston's DeMarlo Hale) to wear it is not only to honor Jackie, but to incite discussion about who he was and what he meant to this country. By having as many players as possible wear it, it can only enlighten more & more people to the importance of his story.

I did my part to try and pass the significance along to the next generation; as my son and I watched the opening introductions to tonight's ESPN telecast of the Padres/Dodgers game, with Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson belting out an emotional rendition of the national anthem, I explained to my son who Jackie was, what he did for Americans, and why so many players are wearing his #42.

As he listened intently to the story and took it all in he looked at me and said "so Jackie was like Rosa Parks?" Exactly, I told him. And Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and all the other African Americans who fought so hard for the right to be treated as equals.

My son learned an important historical lesson tonight while watching a baseball game.

And you can't put a number on that.

Thanks, Jackie.

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