Christopher Seifert

The Inspiration of Jackie Robinson

1

Racism is something that was prevalent in all of sports through out the first half of the 20 th Century. There were many different athletes from every major American sport that were oppressed because of their race. “Players existed in newspaper coverage largely as chits or game pieces and rarely as individuals with a vested interest in the fate of the leagues, and this treatment would continue into the mid-1930s.”(Brian Carroll Spring2006, Vol. 32 Issue 1, p34-42, 9p) Racism is defined as hatred or intolerance of another race or races. In the early days of baseball racism existed because of stereotypes that portrayed blacks as less intelligent, making them unable to play the fast paced game of baseball. This paper outlines the role of Jackie Robinson, or Jack Roosevelt Robinson, in the Civil Rights movement of athletes in America during the 20th Century, giving an analysis of how he paved the way for other civil rights activists and how their actions shaped our sports world to what it is today.

In the 1930's the idea that blacks should be allowed in baseball started to arise in the main stream media. With black athletes becoming rising stars in the college football arena, people started to say that there is no reason that blacks should not be on the field too. “Heywood Broun responded to a recent editorial in the New York Daily News, Headlined “What's Wrong With Baseball,” which called for abolishing the color line. Broun asked why there were no Blacks in Baseball, then answered his own question: “I can see no reason why Negroes should not come into the National and American Leagues.” If Rutgers star Paul Robesn was good enough to be named to the team of the greatest college football player ever and Eddie Tolan could represent the United States at the 1932 Olympic Games, Broun said, then Blacks were good enough to play in the big Leagues.(“Heywood Broun,” 1933p. 1)” (Chris Lamb, Winter2002, Vol. 26 Issue 4, p189, 15p) But it was not until 1947 that Jackie Robinson started playing in Major League Baseball. From 1933 until 1947, when Jackie Robinson entered the League, the American society had to start thinking differently. This change in belief started with the fans of the individual teams. The fans wanted their team to win, weather that mean having a Black man

Christopher Seifert

The Inspiration of Jackie Robinson

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on the team or not. This transgressed into managers of teams wanting to have an edge on the competition, and finally winding up with the team owners. Weather the owners were concerned with being progressive or if they were seeking higher profits, they started this revolution. Jackie Robinson paved the way for individuals in the black community to become super stars in their respective sporting arenas. Jackie was criticized and shunned by many fans as well as other players, and it is this that led the way for the Black community. When the Black community started becoming aware that Jackie was able to keep his head up through the torment he received, they started pushing their previously set limits and have become a key part of every sport in America today.

Jackie's firs game change the American culture forever. Many Blacks in that time had tried to be a part of main stream culture, including but not limited to Major League Baseball. Actions taken by the Black community to integrate were being stalled by the majority of whites even after Jackie started playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Many different prominent figures in the Civil Rights era got their inspiration from Jackie. Martin Luther King Jr. used Jackie for inspiration in his fight to unite poor whites and Blacks to stop the separation that was taking place between them and the elites of society. Martin Luther King Jr. saw what Jackie had endured in accomplishing his goal of playing in the Majors, and copied Jackie's non violent behavior in his fight against the ways of American society. “The circulation of the Pittsburgh Courier, the leading black newspaper, increased by 100,000 when it began reporting on him regularly. All over the country, black preachers would call together their congregations just to pray for Jackie and urge them to demonstrate the same forbearance that he did.” (Henry Aaron 06/14/99, Vol. 153 Issue 23, p104) When Jackie Robinson started playing in the Majors he moved the entire Black community in a positive way. His ability to resist temptation and not fight back, when people would go as far as to spit on him, was one that led to his remarkable reputation of a nice person. In the Blacks fight to become part of American society one of the most successful

Christopher Seifert

The Inspiration of Jackie Robinson

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strategies they had going for them was non-violence. When more newspapers started writing about Jackie, in a positive light, many of the whites that had a negative outlook on the integration, became more willing to cooperate with the social pressures being put in place. “Most of the black players from Jackie's day were at the funeral, but I was appalled by how few of the younger players showed up to pay him tribute. At the time, I was 41 home runs short of Babe Ruth's career record, and when Jackie died, I really

felt that it was up to me to keep his dream alive. I was inspired to dedicate my home-run record to the same great cause to which Jackie dedicated his life. I'm still inspired by

Jackie Robinson. Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of him.”(Henry Aaron, Time; 06/14/99, Vol. 153 Issue 23, p104) Henry Aaron is one of the most famous baseball players that ever lived; and until recently he held the career home run record of 713 home runs. Jackie touched the lives of many different Americans and his life will always act as inspiration for those being oppressed.

Due to the acts of Jackie Robinson and many other prominent Black activists, it became a social norm for people of all races to play professional sports. But just because sports had now become more integrated, white athletes still were making more money than the other races, no matter how well they performed. “Scully (1974) analyzed salary data from the 1968 and 1969 seasons and found that while African-Americans consistently outperformed whites (unequal opportunity for equal ability), the salaries of whites were greater. Another study, using salary data for the 1976 season, found the same relationship but the differences attributable to racial discrimination were smaller (Hill & Spellman, 1984).”(Purdy, Leonard, Eitzen 1994, Vol. 11 Issue 1, p60-69, 10p) In terms of monetary compensation, the integration took much longer to become a common part of professional sports. It was not until the mid eighties that salaries became equal between all races. While different races were

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The Inspiration of Jackie Robinson

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emerging on the field or the court it was not until May 29, 1962 when Buck O'Neil became the first Black Major League Baseball coach. It was not until November 15, 1966 that the NBA saw their first Black head coach. Frank Robinson became the first Black Manager in Major League Baseball in 1975. In present time you would be hard pressed to find a sport that did not involve a multitude of races, from the field to the front office. The fight for integration was fought by both Blacks and Whites all over the America, Whites played a smaller role but if it were not for those that saw no color barrier the ball would not have started rolling as early as it did.

America has had a long struggle with Civil Rights; they are what our founding fathers wrote about in the Deceleration of Independence. The Civil Rights era in America was very similar. Blacks wanted equal rights for all, and equal opportunities for all. Henry Aaron, who many believe is the best that ever played the game of baseball, is inspired by Jackie Robinson every day. The acts of Martin Luther King Jr. were largely inspired by Jackie and his non-violent attitude toward others. Jackie is an inspiration for me because of all the hardship he endured in achieving his goals. I look at his perseverance to motivate me to get through the trivial day to day set backs I face. Nothing I will ever know will even come close to what Jackie Robinson and many other Blacks of that time faced. Jackie was bigger than life; in the sense that he endured more hate and criticism, which in turn lessened the blow that his followers in all aspects of society endured. “There's never been another ballplayer who touched people as Jackie did. The only comparable athlete, in my experience, was Joe Louis. The difference was that Louis competed against white men; Jackie competed with them as well. He was taking us over segregation's threshold into a new land whose scenery made every black person stop and stare in reverence.”(Henry Aaron, Time; 06/14/99, Vol. 153 Issue 23, p104) Not only did Jackie touch the lives of every Black American at that time, he has touched the lives of every American sports fan in

Christopher Seifert

The Inspiration of Jackie Robinson

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this day. Because of Jackie Robinson we have a term in America that says “never say never”.

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