“The Jackie Robinson Story”
As you strive to be the best, how important is character?
There is a force working in our nation today that is, I believe, more dangerous and destructive than anything else. What is it? The decay of our character.
But just what is character? The word “character” comes from a Latin word that is defined as
“a mark or distinctive quality in a person; a quality of moral excellence and strength”.
And as our America continues to move away from the seeking of moral excellence, we are getting closer and closer to our own destruction.
So, what do we do about it? We must Remember. Listen to this story, and as you read it, ask yourself, “Do I have the character to have handled that situation?”
It’s hard to believe there was ever a time in America when anyone would be denied the right to participate in all America had to offer, just because of the color of their skin. But it’s true. In 1940’s America, blacks were not allowed to enter certain restaurants. They had to go to their own schools, they were required to ride in the back of the bus, and they weren’t allowed to play Major League Baseball – they had to play in their own Negro League. Some of our greatest baseball players ever, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and others, started their pro careers playing in the Negro League. But just how was the color barrier broken?
There was a man, Branch Rickey, the President of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who wanted to bring black players into the major leagues, and he was looking for just the man to do that job. In 1945, Jackie Robinson, at age 26, joined the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League, and one of Branch Rickey’s scouts thought that he just might be good enough to play Major League Baseball. But when Robinson met with Rickey their talk was about more than just baseball. They talked about words like risk and danger. Robinson was told that if he played major league ball, he would be insulted, even attacked by players and fans that wanted to keep black players out of major league baseball. And that this would be his hardest job – that no matter how he was treated, no matter how hard they fought to keep him out, he could not fight back. If he even had one outburst, it might set back the integration of baseball for years. Rickey told Robinson that he could only play hard, but that he must ignore any abuses thrown at him. He must rely on his character to get him through.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black player in major league baseball, and it was as hard, even harder, than he had ever imagined. Fans threw things at him, players would spit on him, pitchers threw fastballs at his head, some of his own players refused to play with him, he even received death threats. A lesser man would have given up – but not Jackie Robinson. His character as a man kept him going. Robinson later said that he had to fight hard against loneliness, abuse, and the knowledge that any mistake he made would be magnified because he was the only black man out there. And no matter what came his way, he kept his word to Branch Rickey and to himself – and the fans began to love and respect him.
In his ten years playing Major League Baseball he led the Dodgers to six National League championships and one World Series win. In 1949 he was voted the league’s most valuable player, and in 1962 he was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
And just what was the key to his success? Jackie Robinson said it this way; “I never cared much about acceptance. What I cared about most about was respect”. What a story, and what a lesson for all of us to learn about character.