By Frank Workman
Frank Workman was 10 years old when he saw “The Jackie Robinson Story” on TV. The Lake Forest Park resident roots for Shorecrest when he’s not watching other schools play.
The word courage is used a lot when talking about sports. So is the word hero.
A golfer sinks a downhill putt to win a tournament, and he is said to have shown courage in the way he steadied his nerves.
A basketball player makes a couple of free throws late in the game, on the road with the roaring crowd trying to distract him, and that’s courage.
A receiver leaps up to catch a pass in the middle of the field, knowing he’s going to get clobbered by a defensive back, and that’s courage.
Do these things enough times and they call you a hero.
But both words mean far more.
That point was brought home to me recently when I watched a matinee performance of the new Jackie Robinson movie, “42”. Robinson, the African-American athlete who integrated Major League Baseball, truly embodies both words.
“42” focuses on his contract signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers before the 1946 season (when he played for their Class AAA affiliate in Montreal), through his rookie year in 1947 with the Dodgers.
A 1950 movie, “The Jackie Robinson Story” (where Robinson starred as himself), treated the rampant racism he faced relatively gingerly. But “42” takes the gloves off and graphically exposes us to what the times were like, and what he endured on a daily basis – from friends and foes alike.
He had teammates, mostly Southerners, who petitioned to have him dropped from the team. An opposing manager is depicted hurling the foulest of invective at him from atop the dugout steps. He was second in all of baseball in being hit by pitches in 1947. The Dodgers were refused lodging at one hotel because of Robinson’s presence on the team.
Throughout his first two seasons with the Dodgers, Robinson was under strict orders from their General Manager Branch Rickey (played reasonably convincingly by Harrison Ford) to never fight back. Rickey didn’t want the first black man to play organized Baseball to be afraid to fight back; he wanted a man with the guts NOT to fight back.
“42” provides a new generation of baseball fans and Americans (in the end, aren’t they all one-and-the-same?) a history lesson on how things used to be in our country. There was a time when a black man couldn’t even play baseball, much less get elected President. It drives home to us the irreplaceable role Robinson played in helping us become what we are today.
Take your kids (middle school age and up) to see “42”. Go as a family. On the ride home, talk about the movie with them. Talk about his courage, and talk about the hero he has been to so many people for so many years.
Chances are they had no idea about Jackie Robinson.
Chances are they’ll change their idea of what a hero truly is. So might you.
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