Branch Rickey was the team executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He loved the game of baseball. At least he used to love the game. He wanted to restore that passion again.
Rickey made the decision to bring an African-American into the game. That would be the first time that the all white All American pastime would experience a break in the unspoken code of the game. He knew that it would take a special player.
He and his executives went through piles of names. They wanted a player who could hit, run and field. This pioneer against the racist limitations of the day could not be soft, too nice or out-of-control with his temper.
They chose Jackie Robinson. His baseball skills were excellent. He had a fire in him that could be the strength he would need to survive the hailstorm of abuse hurled at him from baseball’s constituency.
In a featured dialogue between Robinson and Rickey, Jackie declared, “So you want someone who is strong enough to fight back.”
“No,” Rickey retorted, “I want someone who is strong enough NOT to fight back.”
This is a revealing conversation. It is at the heart of a truth in life that only a few understand. Fighting back is the world’s way. It is not the revealer of truth. Rather, in the hands of what is genuine, what is real fighting back rarely gains ground against prejudice. Instead, it usually loses ground because that reaction feeds biased opinions. It fuels hate and perpetuates bigotry.
When Jackie is being stitched up from a vicious spiking of his leg, he asks Rickey why he chose to break the color barrier in baseball. Branch recounted his school years. An African-American teammate took a lot of abuse for his ethnicity. He had convinced himself that he had done all that he could to make a difference in that situation, but truthfully he had not.
Now, he could make a difference in baseball. He could see that his decision was making a difference. Baseball was his love and now he could love it again.
This was more than about a sport. It was about one of the world’s ugliest blights, racism and bigotry. If you have been a victim of this base practice, watch the movie and be inspired.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography