After spending 27 years in prison for opposing the white apartheid government that discriminated against black South Africans, Mandela had every right to be bitter. But he had more important things to do.
World-Herald columnist Erin Grace did something important in Wednesday’s editions. She showed what really happens after gunfire strikes a teenager or young adult. Too often in depraved popular culture the act of street violence is glorified. It was important to read and contemplate the ugly truth of changed lives, surgeries, hospital stays,...
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Published Monday, April 15, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 11:33 am
The Associated Press
Brooklyn Dodgers vice president E.J. "Buzzie" Bavasi, left, sits with players Harold "Pee Wee" Reese, second from left, Jackie Robinson, second from right, and Roy Campanella at the Hotel Lexington in New York on Jan. 11, 1953.
Jackie Robinson's all-star heroics on, off field shaped history
Only a few athletes have been genuine heroes, NPR radio host Scott Simon says, and some of those were heroes for what they did beyond sports. But in Simon's book, Jackie Robinson was a hero on and off the field, a “precious and rare” example of an athlete who influenced the course of American history. Today is Jackie Robinson Day, an annual salute to the man who broke the color barrier in baseball's major leagues when Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey hired him in 1946.
At pro ballparks across the nation today, including the Omaha Storm Chasers' Werner Park, players will don jerseys bearing Robinson's number, 42, which has been retired permanently from the roster of all major league clubs. He's the only player ever to receive that honor.
At movie theaters nationwide, “42” has just opened, retelling the story of Robinson's achievements as a baseball pro and a pioneer in the civil rights movement. The film, starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Rickey, has gotten critical praise.
Who: Scott Simon, host of NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday" and author of "Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball"
What: Creighton University history department's Ross Horning Lecture, "How Jackie Robinson Transformed America"
Where: 2500 California Plaza, Harper Center, Hixson-Lied Auditorium
When: 7:30 tonight
Tickets are sold out.
In all that time, as the movie and pro baseball and Simon's book all illustrate, Robinson's accomplishments have not dimmed.
Until he started at first base for the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, segregation had relegated black players to the Negro Leagues for more than 60 years.
Robinson played in six World Series, helping the Dodgers win it all in 1955. He played in six All-Star Games, won Major League Baseball's rookie of the year honor in 1947, and was the National League's most valuable player in 1949, when he also won the league's batting title.
He did it under a glaring national spotlight, while racist fans screamed slurs, teammates protested his presence, opposing players took dirty shots with spikes and beanballs and bigots sent anonymous death threats.
Playing your best under stress is a defining trait of a great athlete, Simon said, and nobody did that better than Robinson.
“He was, I think beyond question, the most versatile athlete of any color in the United States, and baseball wasn't even his best sport,” Simon said last week from Washington, D.C., where he hosts NPR's “Weekend Edition Saturday.”
Simon said Robinson was arguably the best open-field running back in football, the best shooting forward in collegiate basketball, the best long jumper in the country and could have won a golf title if championship courses back then hadn't been segregated.
His versatility meant Rickey could hire him to play first base, a position he'd never played, until there was an open spot in the lineup that better suited him.
But more than that, Simon said, Rickey was looking for someone “who had the guts not to fight back” when provoked — and a man with a personal life that was above reproach. Robinson, “a loyal, faithful, religious square in the best sense,” fit the bill, Simon said.
For what he withstood, and what he accomplished, Simon said, Robinson became the most admired athlete in America. He was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. After retiring from baseball, he became an outspoken advocate for civil rights.
Martie Cordaro, president and general manager of the Omaha Storm Chasers, said baseball could not have become what it is today without Jackie Robinson.
“Had Robinson not had the courage he displayed, who knows if it would be today's true international game, with the influx of black players, Latinos and Asians?” Cordaro said. “He opened up opportunity for minority players.”
There are no African-Americans on this year's Storm Chasers roster. The number of African-Americans in baseball's big leagues has diminished in recent decades, as football and basketball have become the sports of choice for many black athletes. But Cordaro said the number of nonwhites playing the game has risen, and it all started with Robinson.
The Storm Chasers will have 5,000 kids at Werner Park for today's 11:05 a.m. game against Nashville. A special videotaped message from Robinson's daughter, Sharon, plus historical facts splashed on video screens throughout the game will educate the kids on what Robinson meant to baseball. Jackie Robinson scholarships will be presented to two black high school athletes.
“If you ask me, Robinson was the beginning of the civil rights movement, the genesis of it,” Cordaro said. “It gave a lot of people a lot of courage.”
Simon agreed. When the Rev. C.T. Vivian led the 1965 civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., into the teeth of a violent attack, he later said he was thinking of Jackie Robinson walking to home plate, Simon said. The links are that direct.
Within three years of Robinson's first season with the Dodgers, baseball was integrated, Simon said. It took the nation a while longer to catch up.
As for what he thinks of the movie “42,” Simon said he liked it a lot.
“On some points of history, they use poetic license,” he said. Robinson did not hit a pennant-winning home run in the 1947 season's final game, for example.
But he said Chadwick Boseman captures Robinson's pigeon-toed run and the essence of the man, while Harrison Ford makes a convincing Branch Rickey.
Simon was glad to see that the support of Robinson teammates Eddie Stanky and Pee Wee Reese made it into the film. He also said Christopher Meloni is excellent as a young version of crotchety Dodgers manager Leo Durocher.
Simon said too many today think of Robinson as Mahatma Gandhi in cleats.
“You know, he was a jock,” he said. “He wouldn't have been in a position to change history if he hadn't been the most versatile athlete of his time. The process of turning history the way he did is what turned his conscience.”
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