No matter what tragedy afflicted or humbled Jackie Robinson, the grace of God and the glory that came with his faith and determination was always there to protect and exalt him.
Think About What Jackie Robinson Had To Go Through.
Reflections of the lessons Jackie Robinson learned from Grace:
For Jackie Robinson, the road to the Hall of Fame started in a rough cottage on a plantation just south of Cairo, Georgia. Less than a year after his birth, his father fled his mother and their four children. Determined to make a way out of no way, and clouded with the strength given to her by a definitive source, Mallie moved out west and away from the staunch racism of the south. Jackie Robinson began his life as a youth living in the city of Pasadena in the 1920s.
With the family floundering in despair, immediately Jackie’s mother Mallie was met with grace.
“Soon [she] was in desperate need of work….she left her children and set out to walk the several miles in search of the Pasadena Star News. When she had difficulty finding it, she stopped to ask directions in a building where she saw a huge sign saying, WELFARE. When she explained to the woman behind the desk what she sought to do, the woman smiled and said, ‘This is as far as you need to go.’”
Jackie’s beloved big sister Willa Mae Walker recalled her mother’s faith. “As my mother always said, the Lord took care of us…My mother did it all without welfare’” (20, Falkner).
Above everything that followed him throughout his life, I think about the Grace of God that followed his mother’s faith. This immediately became indoctrinated into a young Jackie and remained with him during his life odyssey.
“Living according to the will of God was an active, not an abstract, principle. Faith sustained the family when reason provided little support” (25, Falkner).
Sports very quickly became the vehicle that would carry the grace that covered Jackie; and his excellence in participating in multiple sports would become the halo surrounding him through the trials and tribulations that accumulated in his life.
“Perhaps more than anything, more than his mother’s influence or that of Karl Downs, what moved Jackie Robinson away from trouble and even crime was sports” (34, Falkner).
I think about what Jackie Robinson had to go through when he describes the most humiliating day of his life.
Jackie and a group of his friends were caught swimming in the municipal reservoir. As documented in Jackie Robinson, An Integrated Life by Christopher Schultz:
“When police caught wind of this, they surrounded the youngsters with guns drawn, one of them shouting, ‘Looka there—niggers swimming in my drinking water!’ Robinson and fifteen of his friends were brought to the station for questioning. After four hours, one warned that the cumulative heat might cause him to faint. The officers responded by playing to stereotype, distributing watermelon and humiliatingly photographing the young thirsty blacks’ desperate devouring of the fruit. Robinson called the experience ‘the most humiliating day of my life’” (7, Schultz).
I think about the loss of his father and the nagging pain it produced—but I also think about the grace that quickly came to fill that void in the form of Karl Downs and Carl Anderson.
In Jackie Robinson, A Biography Arnold Rampersad describes the saving grace in the relationship that Robinson had with Carl Anderson, who was only seven years older than Jack. Robinson himself later wrote of Carl Anderson, “He made me see…that if I continued with the gang it would hurt my mother as well as myself…He said it didn’t take guts to follow the crowd, that courage and intelligence lay in willing to be different. I was too ashamed to tell Carl how right he was, but what he said got to me” (35, Rampersad).
I think about what he learned in the military, arguably one of the most trying times in his career before baseball came in and secured his fate.
However difficult this time was, it was here where Jackie Robinson came face to face with Champion boxer Joe Louis.
“As Robinson himself said years later, ‘If it wasn’t for Joe Louis, the color line in baseball would not have been broken for another ten years” (19, Shultz).
I think about all the many times Jackie Robinson had to stand his ground, defiantly and definitively.
Speaking about the military experience that nearly broke him, “…I couldn’t care less about his causing me trouble. I’d been in trouble all my life, but I knew what my rights were” (23, Shultz).
“As surely as Rosa Parks, but with no movement waiting to back him up, he refused to budge” (79, Falkner).
The Negro Baseball League is where he could concretely identify himself as a loner, which was the beginning of his isolation in the sports world around him. “For one thing, Robinson did not comfortably fit in. One of the few college-educated players in the league, he was the only one who had attended a large, predominantly white university. He was, as he had been elsewhere, something of a loner” (92, Falkner).
I think about what Jackie Robinson went through during his one year playing in the Negro Baseball League for the Kansas City Monarchs.
“The delicacy of Robinson’s position…may account for that…but what is certain is that at the heart of his complaint was his continuing inability to stomach racism as he felt other Negro Leaguers did” (93, Falkner).
Nowhere can the loneliness that sequestered him be felt more than on the night before he signed his contract with Major League Baseball. “On the eve…he was just one man alone among millions of people of color in America, a nation still unaware and still…hostile to very notion of equality between the races” (114, Falkner).
I think about how Jackie Robinson went through the loss of his privacy at the price of his new high-level fame.
“When the announcement was made, he was immediately cast as a symbol, yet Robinson was plagued by both his celebrity and his obscurity” (118-120, Falkner).
I think about how much he was doubted, but also pitied.
“Pitcher Bob Feller ‘couldn’t foresee any future for Robinson in big league baseball’…‘If he were a white man I doubt if they would even consider him as big league material” (58, Shultz).
Ludlow Werner, the editor of the New York Age (a black newspaper), said he was, “happy over the event but I’m sorry for Jackie. He will be haunted by the expectations of his race. To 15,000,000 Negroes he will symbolize not only their prowess in baseball, but their ability to rise to an opportunity. And Lord help him with his fellow Negroes if he should fail them.”
I think about how immediately he was isolated from all sides, with all the pressures of the world resting squarely on his shoulders. I think about how the entire African-American race depended on him, and what that must have felt like.
Werner also added, “His private life will be watched, too, because white America will judge the Negro race by everything he does.”
I think about how he also had to battle understandable jealousy from black players who felt like he wasn’t the best that black baseball had to offer.
Legendary Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige was “’hurt…deep down’ over not breaking the barrier himself. ‘I’d been the guy who started all that big talk about letting us in the big time…I’d be the one everybody said should be in the majors’” (59, Shultz).
To me, it’s still crazy to understand the amount of uncertainty that not only surrounded him, but suffocated him.
“He had been an ‘all-American’ and gone nowhere with it; he was just two years past the nightmare of his endgame with the U.S. military” (144, Falkner). No matter what he proved, it was insufficient to his time.
I think about the anxiety he suffered at every turn.
“Rachel recalls the couple being ‘afraid that Jack simply would not make the team, that he would have to be cut in spring training” (63, Shultz).
Robinson wrote, “I was overestimating my stamina and underestimating the beating I was taking.” Another instance in Cuba for the Dodgers spring training camp reveals the substandard accommodations that the African American players had to put up with, which almost killed Robinson. “So severe did the problem become that Robinson found his stomach health ‘hanging on the ropes’ as he suffered from dysentery and, later, an inflamed colon in the midst of taking on the tremendous physical challenge of making the roster” (71, Shultz).
I think about how viciously his own teammates were against him, and how they welcomed him onto the team by petitioning against him.
“Carl Furillo was part of this too, even though he was from Pennsylvania…he went around telling anyone who’d listen, ‘I won’t play with that black sonuvabitch.’” After he was told by Branch Rickey that it was his job or acceptance, Furillo “was no longer a rebel” (152, Falkner).
“Robinson was alone…his first day he was assigned a hook on the wall. With the hook went an aloofness if not hostility from his teammates” (162, Falkner).
I think about the habitual humiliation he had to suffer.
Much is overlooked about the humiliation Jackie Robinson endured throughout his life, but especially in the public during his early career in MLB.
Was there ever a time in your life that you had to do something so repulsive, that even the thought of it humiliated you?
I think about how Ben Chapman of the Philadelphia Phillies pushed him to his limits by the deep-seated racism he harvested and projected onto Jackie Robinson.
It was so bad that public pressure mounted against Chapman and the entire Phillies organization. Consequently, Chapman was forced to take a “fake” picture with Robinson before their next game. Chapman refused to shake his hand and instead held the bat.
“Robinson, who though humiliated at even the thought of it, went along because his boss had asked him” (164, Falkner).
While the picture was being taken, Chapman muttered under his breath, “Jackie, you’re a good ballplayer, but you’re still a nigger to me” (75, Shultz).
I think about the many times Jackie Robinson thought about quitting, or breaking the pledge he made to Branch Rickey to turn the other cheek.
“I thought to hell with Mr. Rickey’s noble experiment…I thought what a glorious, cleansing thing it would be to let go. To hell with the image of the patient black freak I was supposed to create. I could throw down my bat, stride over to that Phillies dugout, grab one of those white sons of bitches and smash his teeth in with my despised black fist” (74, Shultz).
I think about the torment he continued to suffer at the hands of his fellow athletes.
“The peace was short-lived, as the Phillies quickly picked up the racist heckling where they had left off…including players who pointed bats at me and made machine-gunlike noises.”
I think about the many hours of sleep that he lost, as documented by his wife, Rachel.
“But I knew they were eating at his mind, for he would jerk and twitch and even talk in his troubled sleep” (75, Schultz).
Success on the field became the saving grace for his lasting career.
“But in the beginning of May, despite all the obstacles, Robinson began to hit....it was as though everyone—teammates, opponents, fans, sportswriters—collectively woke up to what kind of player he might be” (168, Falkner).
I think so much about the isolation he endured, whether he was at home or on the road.
“Exacerbating Robinson’s isolation were hotel restrictions in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati….Robinson’s psyche and batting average appeared to sag…One sportswriter saw the Dodgers first baseman as ‘the loneliest man I have ever seen in sports’” (76, Schultz).
Grace came through amidst the pain and torment Jackie Robinson endured his rookie season in the form of Rudolph Thomas, who was a leading figure in Harlem as the branch director of the local YMCA on 135th Street.
“Thomas knew better than anyone how thin the ground was under Robinson’s feet…Thomas saw not only that Robinson was a role model, but a vulnerable one too. He hoped the Y would give Robinson cover even as he gave it additional prestige.”
“Robinson…agreed to work as a youth director, which meant he would be available as an adviser, coach, and organizer for young people—remained part of what he did through the following decade.”
I think about how even though the pay was “negligible”, his work as a mentor and coach was one of the most important contributions he’d ever make to the community.
“The hiring was an experiment, but also a success; juvenile membership at the Harlem YMCA quickly doubled, and Jack began an association with the Harlem YMCA that would last the rest of his life” (204, Rampersad).
In my opinion, this was the greatest demonstration of the positive force of grace which covered Jackie Robinson; this kept him safe and protected during the most consequential period of his life. This particular position with the Y gave him more than just a title, it offered both lasting purpose and meaning to his gigantic symbol as a celebrity. It also gave him the father he never had in Rudolph Thomas. “But more importantly…Thomas became a surrogate father to Jackie” (191-192, Falkner).
I think about how for Jackie Robinson, celebrity meant nothing.
Even while signing baseballs for adoring fans he was subject to heartless discrimination, as evidence by this incident in 1959. In a letter to Robert Carter (who was general counsel of the NAACP), Gloster Current (who organized Robinson’s work with the Freedom Fund campaign and frequently traveled with him to NAACP speaking engagements) outlined an incredible occurrence:
“Both Mr. Jackie Robinson and myself were passengers on Flight Easter Airlines….Mr. Robinson was standing behind me autographing baseballs and talking to admirers…Once again, the manager walked over to us and told [us] we could not sit there. Another officer accompanied him who he pointed to and said to arrest us if we persisted in sitting there. Both Mr. Robinson and I pointed out to the manager that we had a lawful right to remain there; that we were interstate passengers and in my own case I said that I had no objection to going to jail. However, no effort was made to arrest either of us” (75-76, Long).
I think about how he had to balance the perception of who he was to the world with the reality of what he was actually awarded in real life.
“The tension between outside expectations and actual opportunity to provide would remain an issue in his postbaseball years” (82, Schultz).
I think about how his freedom wasn’t really freedom; how the brave new emboldened Jackie in his third season as a pro was still psychologically locked in a cage.
In an interview directed to opponents he warned them that they, “…better be rough on me because I’m going to be rough on them” He still got scolded and reprimanded from the Major League Commissioner, who demanded a meeting with him to explain his comment. “Free to go, he did resent being singled out for remarks he felt would have caused barely a ripple in the press if uttered by a white player.”
I think about how misunderstood he was.
“More than revenge, I wanted to be Jackie Robinson.”
I think about what he had to go through with his own African-American teammates, mainly catcher Roy Campanella.
The biggest thorn in Robinson’s side was Campanella, who pitted himself as the anti-Jackie Robinson. “In a clear contrast to Robinson, Campanella publicly assured whites that he was no ‘crusader’.”
I think about how easy it was for the media to pit these two men against each other.
Daily News writer Dick Young’s calculated misfire articulates this point:
“Young scolded Robinson: ‘Anytime I talk to you, I’m acutely aware of the fact that you’re a Negro.’ ‘I can go to Campy and all we discuss is baseball. I talk to you and sooner or later we get around to social issues’, Young chastised. But Jackie was quick to note his black teammate was clearly viewed as an African American ‘when he was Jim Crowed at the Adams Hotel in St. Louis’…what Young clearly implied, countered Robinson, was ‘that he didn’t think of [Campanella] as a certain kind of Negro’” (104-105, Schultz).
“The Sporting News expected him to “be beyond reproach” and it continued to rebuke his outspokenness as a sign of ungrateful disregard that he owed ‘a great deal to the game’ Black teammate Roy Campanella expanded the criticism by stating, ‘Instead of being grateful to baseball, he’s criticizing it. Everything he has he owes to baseball’” (103, Schultz).
I think about what he went through in opposition to the league that birthed his fate as a baseball legend.
He won against major league baseball, not in the sense that he defeated them, but that he established his own independent legacy.
“’There’s no sentiment in baseball’, [Robinson] later wrote.”
“An irate Dodger’s management…spewed anger in the sports pages, calling him ungrateful, angling for a higher salary, and ‘always seeking publicity’” (108-109, Schultz).
I think about the battle it was just for him to retire with a semblance of redemption.
Speaking about that irate Dodgers organization, particularly in the way that Robinson went over their heads to announce his retirement with Look magazine, wife Rachel concedes, “There was a kind of revenge in it for us…We felt that the top people had hurt us and we were getting back a little at them” (109, Schultz).
Grace got involved again. No matter the bitterness and pain that his time in the major leagues caused him, baseball would prove to provide the greatest bridge for Jackie to connect his life from his past to his future.
His life finally came full circle when the new ownership of the Dodgers (the team relocated to Los Angeles in 1957) dedicated a day to him in June 1972:
“The Dodgers owner’s son, Peter O’Malley, issued the invitation to heal old wounds, and Robinson called the occasion ‘truly one of the greatest moments of my life’” (153, Schultz).
Although he was close to his death, he was able to make perfect peace with the sport of baseball. I can only imagine how happy Jackie Robinson would be today if he could see the impact he has made on the world. His sports career is proof of the eternal grace that has covered his faith on earth.
I think about what Jackie Robinson had to go through in order for the media to change, and how it cost him his life and reputation.
Just Report It
One of the greatest graces that came from the work of Jackie Robinson was the way the media had to change in order to cover him.
The press was so important because the reporters were instrumental in winning over public opinion. Nowhere can this beautiful change be seen than by the testimony of Dodger’s reporter Red Barber:
Red Barber, who was a southerner, had to readjust his entire being in order to not quit and continue as a reporter for the Brooklyn Dodgers. “He did not [quit], he says, because he heard a voice from the grave—that of Judge Landis—telling him the most important thing a reporter could do is report. ‘I heard the word report and peace came,’ Barber said. He became instrumental…because he was able to ‘just report’” (151, Falkner).
I think about how much he had to ignore the impossibly deafening noise.
“A number of columnists concluded that he would either not make the squad or would wind up as a reserve” (157, Falkner). Adding to the stress and sacrifice as to what Jackie Robinson was trying to accomplish was a complicit media trying to sabotage the narrative with their biased reporting.
Grace came through yet again and covered Jackie Robinson in a way that was far superior to the unrelenting coverage of the media.
“In a study of NY newspaper coverage of Robinson’s first year…‘May 10 was a critical point in the newspaper coverage of Robinson…But following May 10, both the Times and the Herald Tribune altered their coverage of Robinson, virtually eliminating race identification [or] terms and reports of incidents with a racial connotation’ ” (168, Falkner).
“The hate mail, the threats, they never stopped—only they were not part of the developing story. The story that was being conveyed was that Jackie Robinson belonged in the major leagues” (169, Falkner).
I think about how he changed the game forever by winning over the world on a baseball diamond.
“Time magazine, which put Jackie on a September cover, wrote that much of that championship could be credited to their African American recruit. The Sporting News—once skeptical of the advisability of Robinson’s inclusion—gave him their prestigious Rookie of the Year Award” (79-80, Schultz).
I also think about how quickly the media turned on him when he became more defiant and less submissive to their will.
“His relationship with the press became strained…The Sporting News regularly called for Robinson’s censure under such headlines as ‘A Problem Grows in Brooklyn’ and ’Robinson should be a player, Not a Crusader’” (102, Schultz).
I think about what Jackie Robinson went through at home, and how he had to find ways to suppress his anger.
“Rachel Robinson claimed the only way she could detect when the pressure was mounting on her husband was that he would head for the back lawn with a bucket of golf balls and begin ‘driving them into the lake’ one by one. When a reporter questioned the player on the story, ‘Jack gave me a twinkly look. The golf balls are white.’ He said” (103, Schultz).
I think about how quickly the media turned on him, especially concerning his support of Richard Nixon.
Without understanding and hearing his side of the matter, the press neglected getting the full story about why he supported the Republican Party—as a way to promote balance in the two-party system. Instead, they ripped him to shreds.
“…commentary in Time magazine. ‘Jackie has been chock full o’zeal and sometimes chock full o nonsense’…Sometimes he dismays even the Post, as when he declared that he might be compelled to support Richard Nixon for President if the Democrats failed to nominate a staunch civil rights advocate” (90, Long).
I think about how rarely the media got it right, and all of it at the cost of Jackie Robinson’s reputation.
I think about what he went through when he was traded to the New York Giants.
“In the past, owners had been known for a certain clinical detachment in dealing popular but declining players, but this seemed exceptionally mean. The trade of Robinson, in fact, was not about coldness of cash but the heat of resentment” (239, Falkner).
The fact that he had to go through this degree of hardship while facing his retirement demonstrates his fortitude.
But, with every great obstacle, a new opportunity offered itself. Grace once again became the center of gravity in his world.
“…in leaving baseball to become a ranking executive he would once again be consciously playing the role of trailblazer” (246, Falkner).
Attention (current and future) Hall of Fame athletes: think about what Jackie Robinson had to go through during the height of his career and relevance.
“During his playing days he marveled that sportswriters ‘expected me to be grateful for what they wrote. Once a writer came up and said I better start saying thank you if I wanted to be Most Valuable Player. I said if I have to thank you to win MVP, I don’t want the f**king thing. And I didn’t thank him, and I won it.’ He even penned a column two weeks before the announcement titled ‘I Won’t Crawl to the Hall of Fame,’ insisting he left baseball with his ‘integrity intact…’”
Think he was over exaggerating? He wasn’t. “The worry may have been well founded, as he only narrowly acquired the 75% majority necessary” (130, Schultz).
Dick Young, in a pretty fair description, depicted his induction in an accurate light, which laid the groundwork for his legacy off the field:
“He made enemies. He has a talent for it. He has the tact of a child because he has the moral purity of a child…While an enemy ‘plots revenge…a non-friend feels indifference. I am confident Jackie’s non-friends will sweep him into the Hall of Fame” (130, Schultz).
Grace got the final word again; when his moment came, no one could take it from him. He shared it with his mother, his wife, and Branch Rickey.
“When the actual induction arrived, a clearly moved Robinson offered thanks to three people who had been instrumental in his life: his mother, his wife, and the ‘man who had been like a father to me,’ Branch Rickey” (130, Schultz).
Jackie Robinson was swept away by the magnitude of his achievement and used that as the platform for his life after baseball and his legacy as a great American pioneer and hero.
I think about two different words, although technically the same, that best describe what lied at the heart of Jackie Robinson’s life after baseball: booking a job and the book of Job.
I think about how Jackie Robinson was constantly searching for job security like so many professional athletes do post-retirement.
“For his part, Robinson was pleased that he had a real job, not a ceremonial one or one with just an office and a nameplate” (250, Falkner).
Unfortunately, the baseball star had burned countless baseball bridges by the way he announced his retirement, which caused him nothing but problems during a time in his life where he should have been shrouded with celebration. “Robinson’s retirement was controversial because it was shrouded in secrecy and politics—just like his signing in 1945. Only this time, he was more in control” (249, Falkner).
I think about how he found himself in a public dispute with his ex-owner Walter O’Malley, but rigorously fought back defending his character and reputation.
When speaking about E.J. “Buzzy” Bavasi, after the Dodgers general manager went to the media and relentlessly attacked his values and character, Robinson said, “I thought Bavasi was a better friend than that…For years I’ve agreed to go along with him in our salary talks, even though I knew I was underpaid. Now that’s my reward” (251, Falkner).
Once again, grace came in and delivered Jackie Robinson from the fate of failure, as he was swept away when it was announced he would win the 1956 Spingarn Medal, the highest honor awarded by the NAACP.
Given annually to a black American whose achievements had brought credit to the race, Robinson was rewarded for not only his bold bravery in baseball, but also his civil rights activism. This gave him a new sense of purpose and a new direction on which he could now focus his attention: “For Robinson, the Spingarn Medal was more than an award; it was a new challenge, and particularly after the bitter taste he had from how he left baseball, it was particularly welcomed.”
Now truly free to pursue his life destiny, he officially left baseball behind “while fans were arguing over the rights and wrongs of the trade” (253, Falkner).
With the new platform he possessed, he was able to contribute to the NAACP Freedom Fund by helping them raise 1 million dollars during his first year, as he ignited an entire generation in 1957 by traveling across the country to different cities offering his words of encouragement through his compelling speeches.
“Since the Reconstruction…we have waited almost one hundred years for these rights…In my view, now is the time for Negroes to ask for all the rights which are theirs…It seems to me that all my life I have heard these cries for patience” (262, Falkner).
Robinson was incredibly successful on these speaking tours, mostly because the power of his words matched the truth of the life he had lived. He could talk about not practicing “patience” in the fight for civil rights using the success of the desegregation of Major League Baseball as a prime example.
The Book of Job
The Old Testament story of Job is also a fate that Jackie Robinson wasn’t able to escape. Coincidentally, he identified greatly with the Book of Job. As highlighted in 42 Faith by Ed Henry, Robinson gave many sermons and speeches in the late 50s and throughout the 60s on this very subject:
“’As a black man I have a special affinity for Job’, Robinson wrote. ‘It may be an exaggeration to do so, but I translate his story into the story of the black man in America…Like Job, we were suddenly bereft of our wealth (civilization, language, land)—our health (brutalized by slavery)—our family (slaves had no family rights)—kept in bondage, enduring the scornful eye of the community and the revulsion of our masters….Like Job we know misery…But like Job we answer, ‘I am a man, and therefore worthy. Though you slay me, I will maintain my own ways before you….As an individual I do not pretend to [have] the status of Job, his innocence, his goodness, his courage are beyond me….But as a black man I understand him. And it was as a black man that I had to make my way, and maintain my own ways’” (15-16, Henry).
“My life is checkered with the criticism of ‘friendly counselors’—the critics who thought they knew better than I what I should do, feel and think. The acquaintance whose cheap advice I refused. The power-seeking politicians who wanted to buy my loyalty. The envious who wanted me to get on my knees in gratitude for what baseball had done for me…the mentally disturbed who longed for my downfall” (16, Henry).
I think about how his own life could be translated into the modern-day story of Job. I think about the many afflictions that hit him late in life; fast, hard and unfairly.
“Just three days after Martin Luther King’s death had rattled Robinson…[his] son Jackie Robinson Jr. was charged with possession of heroin, marijuana, and a .22-caliber revolver…It was, wrote Robinson later, ‘the day the roof fell in on us.’” As he bravely faced reporters, he muttered softly, “God is testing me” (145, Schultz).
I think about the torment he had to live through in thinking about the loss of time with his children and the guilt it most assuredly produced.
“Ironically, a lot of time was taken up at meetings and sports events sponsored by organizations that were in the business of helping youngsters” (146, Schultz).
I think about the loss of his job after the assassination of JFK, which became an extreme burden that proved to be a most difficult challenge for the man who eternally carried the weight of the world.
I think about what he had to go through in terms of the manner in which he was let go from his job.
“Robinson had long outlived his usefulness to Black…when Robinson finally left Chock, he had nothing lined up, only his celebrity—which did not pay the bills” (304, 306, Falkner).
I think about the many burdens that would come to bring the great man down.
“The absence of a job was as much an internal as an external burden…‘when [his wife, Rachel] actually began to go to work every day, my annoyance and resentment began to show’” (306, Falkner).
I think about how the burden of realizing he hadn’t spent his time with his children perhaps compounded with the void left from his absent father impacted his deteriorating health.
“It was as though he had awakened with a start to realize that over the years he had not spent much time at home, that he had devoted himself far more to other people’s children than to his own” (306-307, Falkner).
I think about how the weight of it all proved to be too much a burden to overcome late in his life, and the impact this revelation had on his longevity is what lingers most.
I think about how Jackie Jr. tried so hard, but couldn’t quite win like his father.
“Just around the time his father lost his job Jackie Jr. ran away from home.” “Jackie Jr. bore the burden of a name he should have never been given” (307, Falkner).
I think about how his son spent his lifetime trying to sequester a pain that never went away.
He tried to find purpose through serving his country in the military, but returned home from Vietnam with a spiritual vacancy. “He returned home to Connecticut, said his mother, ‘spiritless, wounded in body, soul, cynical, afraid’ and—unbeknownst to the family—a drug addict” (147, Schultz).
“He wrote in a 1967 column…’As I look around today and observe how lost and frustrated and bitter our youngsters are, I find myself wishing that there was some way to reach out to them and let them know that…we want to help. I confess I don’t know the way’” (148, Schultz).
In some ways I feel like the grace covering Jackie in this situation is the way it changed his way of thinking late in his life.
“Because he blamed himself for negligence in raising him, he altered his way of looking at the world around him, philosophically and emotionally, so he could better see through the eyes of a young person like Jackie Robinson Jr.” (328, Falkner).
Helping his son’s addiction was one issue Jackie Robinson couldn’t tackle and it still lies in front of our modern society. In my personal opinion, this needs to become the forefront of our focus if we truly want to honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson.
I think about how badly his body suffered so that we could all benefit from his success through sports.
“Hall of Famer Monte Irwin, one of the lucky Negro Leaguers to play several years in the Majors, recalled Robinson endured constant ‘stomach pains’ while playing in the Major Leagues, which he kept to himself…Evidence…came when he retired from the game ‘his pains disappeared’” (149, Schultz).
Above all, I think positively about the greatest hero of all time (GHOAT) Jackie Robinson.
I think about how perhaps one of his greatest legacies will be his profound friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the tremendous respect they had for one another.
Even through their most turbulent times, when they sometimes clashed with mild disagreement, I think about the fundamental role and responsibility he had on the influence of King and how it will always be one of his greatest achievements.
I think about how Martin Luther King Jr. himself spoke about how he took to Jackie for inspiration.
“Jackie Robinson made it possible for me in the first place. Without him I would never have been able to do what I did” (237, Falkner).
I think about their correspondence with one another, and how they depended on each other to lift the spirits of an entire population.
In a letter to Jackie Robinson dated June 19, 1960, Martin Luther King sent him this urgent, uplifting message:
“The job ahead is too great, and the days are too bright to be bickering in the darkness of jealousy, deadening competition, and internal ego struggles…and always know that I, along with millions of Americans, are deeply indebted to you for your unswerving devotion…at all times to champion the cause of the underdog” (105, Long).
In another letter dated May 14, 1962 he congratulates Jackie for his Hall of Fame induction. “Let me formally congratulate you again for your selection to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. You have made every Negro in America proud through your baseball prowess and your inflexible demand for equal opportunity for all.” (147, Long)
Ralph Abernathy, King’s best friend, also thanked Robinson and provided some warm words. “I have always been proud of you and your stand for freedom but in that article you spoke like a prophet, a scholar, and a great American, having authority and power. Please keep up the good work.” (147, Long)
I think about what Jackie Robinson had to go through, and I am a different person than I was before.
After reading about his life in great detail, I have a new sense of being and belonging. Because of this man, I consider it a blessing to count all of my burdens; now my burdens don’t feel quite as heavy as they once did.
This is what I hope you take away from all of my words concerning this hero, now marked with 100 years of life worth celebrating. Look at the burdens in your life the way he did—as a challenge to overcome, in order to become better. This will in turn shift your sphere of influence: you will want to be better. This is how true, gradual progress is made in our individual lives as well as in our society.
I shared what I read, and I will continue to share what I see. Now, I challenge you too. #thinkaboutwhatJackieRobinsonhadtogothrough
Four time All-American, WNBA Champion, Edutainer and Coach