Jackie Robinson is an MVP once again, more than six decades after he broke baseball’s color barrier and became the most valuable player in the National League.
Robinson died in 1972, yet he casts every bit of the shadow in death that he did in life. Today, he remains America’s most striking and enduring image of workplace diversity.
That may seem an odd role for a baseball player, which only underscores his significance. The new movie “42” chronicles his ordeal to generations who may not be familiar with a watershed event in our nation’s history.
Very few people thought it was a good idea in April 1947 when the Brooklyn Dodgers introduced the African-American Jackie Robinson into the white-only major leagues. Taking note of the existing racial tensions in the country, white and blacks alike feared repercussions.
Robinson, though, endured the racial taunts from the crowd and his white opponents. His manager was an outspoken critic of having a black on the team, and his own team signed a petition refusing to work with him.
Robinson was the better man. He depended on his athletic skills. His line drives sent shudders through the fielders and his fearless base running defied convention. Even if he wasn’t wanted by everyone, Robinson earned everyone’s respect simply because of his superior play.
The baseball field was his workplace and he was bringing diversity to it as an African-American. Once white-only baseball rosters are now loaded with blacks, Latinos, and Asians because of his breakthrough.
More than that, Robinson became a cultural icon by people who didn’t know a slider from a Texas leaguer. Because his every move was watched by tens of thousands each day, Robinson showed the value of character, dedication, courage, dignity, and grace under pressure.
Robinson’s was a shared American experience. He was a Civil Rights activist and Freedom Rider before those things existed. From the people who attended the games each day, to those who read about his performance in newspaper stories or box scores or listened to them on the radio, everyone in the country learned from him.
He taught us all to evaluate people around us on their talents and abilities, and not to value them on the color of their skin. He won admiration for his on-field achievements, but more than that he earned the respect of a nation that had fought for more than a century to escape its racial past.
You need not to have ever witnessed a baseball game or watched a movie on his life to appreciate that his was one of the seminal moments in the making of America. By fulfilling his personal dream to excel, he taught every worker to stand up for themselves and demonstrate that they deserved the respect of those around them.
It doesn’t matter if you are an immigrant accountant or farmer, a Latino nurse, or a white factory worker. Everyone in the United States has benefited from a black man brave enough to stand out proudly based on his talent. There could be no greater role model.