BY ERIC SMITH
On the evening of October 23rd, 1972, my father came to me and simply said "Son, Jackie Robinson died today." Now I was only seven years old at the time and still several years away from getting into sports of any kind. I knew the name Jackie Robinson well enough in that I'd seen him on Sesame Street and other TV programs of the day and I knew that he'd played baseball. I did know that he'd hit something like 142 home runs but was not impressed because by that time of course both Willie Mays and Hank Aaron who were still playing at the time had already hit well over five hundred homers apiece.
Dad looked at me and said "Son, Jackie Robinson was so much more than the number of home runs he hit." In the coming years I came to understand exactly what my Dad meant; that that gray haired seemingly old man I remembered seeing on TV programs as a child was in fact a giant among men. He was not only a hero for his time, for my time, but for all time.
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson exemplified what it meant to be a man and he defined what it was to be an American. "There's not an American in this country free until every one of us is free." said Mr. Robinson in his call for equal rights. Some will argue that Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers took the greatest risk when he chose Jackie Robinson to be the one to integrate Major League Baseball in 1947 but that is not true for it was not Mr. Rickey who was charged with the task of once and for all proving the lie that is White Supremacy by playing on the white man's field, playing by his rules, and not only beating him at his own game but beating him decisively.
We who were born and came of age in a post segregated America can little grasp how significant this was. In 1947, when Jackie Robinson first took to the field as the Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman, the US Supreme Court which in Brown versus Board of education declared that "Separate but Equal" was unconstitutional was still seven years away. It was eight years before Rosa Parks told a bus driver in Montgomery Alabama that she wanted to sit down, and seventeen and eighteen years respectively before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended legal apartheid in America and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally secured for African Americans the right to vote.
In 1947, when Jackie Robinson entered the Major Leagues, the United States Armed Forces were still segregated along the lines of race. Emmitt Till was still a child of seven and Martin Luther King Jr. was an eighteen year old Junior at Morehouse College in Atlanta Georgia. Think of all the abuse this one man had to endure without protest for exercising the most basic right of being able to play baseball on a Major League field.
But for Jackie Robinson's exploits on the baseball diamond it is possible that the US Supreme Court, in Brown versus Board of Education, would not have declared "Separate But Equal" to be unconstitutional. But for Jackie Robinson it is possible that Rosa Parks would not have insisted on sitting down. But for Jackie Robinson it is possible that the world would never have even heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and but for Jackie Robinson there may never have been a Muhummad Ali.
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." he said more than once. The impact his life has had on all of is too great to be measured for without question all of our lives have been made better because of the mere fact that he lived and that can be said of very, very, few human beings.
On April 12, of this year the movie biopic of Jackie Robinson's life, "42", will be released in theaters nationwide. There are many who are saying that with the release of this film that Jackie Robinson will again be in style. I've got news for all of you and that is that Jackie Roosevelt Robinson never has, is not, and never will be out of style for his spirit, his example, is the star that guides us all; whether we are aware of that star or not.
He matters because we matter. He matters because freedom matters. He matters because being treated with dignity and treating others with dignity matters and he matters because life itself matters; because we all have value; because we all have something within ourselves that we can give to others to make their lives better and to make this nation and this world a better place because we ourselves lived. It because of these and many, many other reasons that Jackie Roosevelt Robinson still matters and why all of us; regardless of our race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, and religion will forever be in his debt.
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