Jackie Robinson (January 31, 1919–October 24, 1972) continues to inspire 75 years after first stepping onto the baseball field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, for his first Opening Day. Some may wonder if it is overkill that the number 42 is retired from Major League Baseball, all teams with a sign in every MLB ballpark, and all players, coaches and umpires wear No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day.
Robinson endured every abuse conceivable during his time playing major league baseball. He also enjoyed many incredible successes, which included winning the 1955 World Series, such firsts as being the first Black Rookie of the Year, first to win the batting title, first to with Most Valuable Player, and the first Black player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is safe to say that pro sports would look different without Robinson’s example.
A life off the field
Robinson didn’t play as long as many legends, playing from 1947 to 1956. He was a staunch advocate for equality before joining the Dodgers, risking a court-martial for correctly refusing to move to the back of the bus while in the Army. He also continued the work for racial equity and set new standards for what can be done long after leaving baseball:
- He was the first Black television baseball analyst.
- He was the first Black vice president of a large American corporation.
- He helped create Freedom National Bank.
- He was posthumously awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor.
- He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for work on and off the field.
Inspiration to all
These are just a few examples of Robinson’s impact on baseball. But one could argue that influence is felt far beyond baseball and American history. His example inspired all. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke of his impact on them and others. Even his wife and children continue the work of breaking barriers using his words and example. Businesses and corporations continue to partner with the Jackie Robinson Foundation to address systemic economic inequality because of that legacy.
Any athlete who takes a stand against oppression, hate, and tyranny stands on Jackie Robinson’s shoulders. The topic could be the war in Ukraine, human rights abuses in China, or the increasingly polarized politics in the United States. Jackie Robinson is there in spirit, whatever the cause, wherever it happens.