Editor’s Note: In honor of today being the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier I am reprinting an article I originally published in recognition of the anniversary a year ago.
I am learning that one difficult challenge of being a parent is explaining to our children pieces from past history that are inconsistent with how we want them to think and experience daily life.
Recently my five-year-old son and I were watching a section from the wonderful Ken Burns Baseball documentary. The section first focused about baseball during World War II and then about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947.
Because he is growing up in a time and culture where racism isn’t a noticeable part of daily life and he has been fortunate in his short life to meet and regularly interact with many people from all backgrounds and races, it was very difficult for him to grasp that there was a time in our country when discrimination was part of the norm in certain places and where not everyone was given the same opportunities.
While trying to give him enough information to explain why Jackie Robinson was a special person and should be celebrated, I found myself focusing on how great Robinson was as a player, rather than simply focusing on his crucial role in breaking racial barriers. Not that I was trying to shield him from the ugly elements of America’s past, but rather because it was easier for him to understand and because what I want him to know as he moves forward with his own life is that people are judged and celebrated for their achievements, performance and success and that skin color isn’t an important part of that equation.
When you think about it, that is probably one of the greatest components of Jackie Robinson’s legacy. He paved the way for us to be able to judge greatness not based on ethnicity or race, but instead on how someone performs in whatever area in which they participate.
There are certainly still racial issues within our country, but while it is important for my son and all children to know and understand our history, things will continue to change as more generations of youngsters live through times where, to quote Martin Luther King Jr., “they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”
It was 64 years ago today that Robinson played his first game as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The future Hall of Famer didn’t get a hit that afternoon, but his mere presence forever changed professional baseball and American society.
During his rookie season, Robinson hit .297 and was named the National League Rookie of the Year.
Despite being 28 years old at the time of his major league debut, Robinson played 10 seasons for the Dodgers and helped them reach the World Series six times and claim the World Series title in 1955. He had a career batting average of .311 and was named the NL MVP in 1949.
In honor of Jackie Robinson Day across Major League Baseball, we are including several Youtube videos that celebrate his greatness both as a baseball player and as the man who paved the way for baseball to truly become the American pastime.