Why Jackie Robinson is still relevant today

(News4usonline) – April 15 marks the 75th anniversary of the most influential professional debut in the history of American sports. On that day every player in the Major League Baseball (MLB) will carry out a yearly tradition and wear No. 42 in honor of the late, great Jackie Robinson.

This year, MLB has added a new twist as every jersey will also feature the patented Dodgers blue to go along with the No. 42. It is a nice gesture from the league who have already retired Robinson’s number. The only other American athlete with that honor is Wayne Gretzky in the National Hockey League (NHL).

“He is the reason that I am here today,” White Sox star shortstop Tim Anderson told the MLB Network in 2021. What he stands for, what he did for the community, what he did for the game, he changed it. He is the man, and it is only right to give as much respect as needed.”

Even with all of the accolades that pour in annually, it still does not feel like enough for a man of Robinson’s stature. He is arguably the most important athlete in the history of sports, let alone baseball.

Other athletes have gone a long way in progressing American culture and society, many of them risking their careers, but none come to mind quicker or carry more weight than the former UCLA stalwart.  

In a season with 162 games, MLB should extend the recognition of the most influential athlete of all time from just one day to at least a week. That’s because celebrating the greatness of Robinson in one out of 162 does not seem like enough time to recognize the impact of his greatness.

When reminiscing on the past and watching highlights from previous seasons, fans should routinely see their favorite players rocking JR’s 42 while making a diving catch or hitting a walk-off home run.

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers uniform, 1954. Courtesy photo

The odds of a memorable game or meaningful highlight taking place during one game out of the long baseball season, are understandably low and make seeing something like Mookie Betts robbing a game-tying home run in the No. 42 jersey a sight we would only be lucky to see. If Betts wore 42 for a week or longer, the odds of No. 42 creating another breathtaking play would go up drastically.

“Wearing the number 42 means the world,” Betts said in an interview on the Dodger YouTube channel. “Everything that Jackie went through to pave the way for myself and other Black players… it means even more to know that I am actually a part of the organization that he wore that number, it is a special thing to me.”

Other leagues should also do their part in honoring Robinson. He is credited with breaking the color barrier in baseball, but the class with which Robinson did it has allowed countless opportunities for Black athletes across all sports.

After receiving the NAACP Jackie Robinson Award back in 2017, NBA icon LeBron James had high praise for the legendary Jackie Robinson.

“What he used that platform to do, to stand up and be the man that he was throughout those difficult times for a bigger cause… A guy like myself today can be free and do whatever I want to do in this profession. To be able to walk and talk and say things that matter to me and hope there will be change. He did it in a time where he wasn’t allowed to speak up or stand for what (he) believed in… he had a much bigger calling,” James said in a Cleveland Cavaliers post-practice interview.  

This 1947 photograph by Harry Warnecke pictures Robinson at Ebbets Field during his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian

The NBA and NFL do not have a day to recognize the first Black player to break their color barriers. They potentially do not wish to openly admit they also have a past history of being racially segregated leagues.

Perhaps they use Robinson’s No. 42 or image to mend some of their own past mistakes. NBA players would likely have no problem honoring the path that Robinson has paved by remembering his legacy.

It is interesting that the first Black players in the NFL and NBA are not household names like Robinson. In the 1920s Fritz Pollard played in the NFL during its infancy, but Black players were kept out of the league by the owners shortly after his departure.

Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Nat Clifton, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode are all players that broke into the NFL and NBA right around the same time as Jackie Robinson. The problem is that none of them were quite the caliber of player that Robinson was.

“God couldn’t have picked a better man to go through that,” veteran outfielder Dexter Fowler (Toronto Blue Jays) told reporters after a game when he was with the St Louis Cardinals.    

Hot Springs
Hot Springs, Arkansas, is referred to as the “birthplace” of spring training baseball as Major League Baseball clubs, including Negro League players, descended on this tiny city for exhibition games. Majestic Park was one of the playing fields that players and teams used. Among the MLB Hall of Famers to play at Majestic Park were Henry “Hank” Aaron and the great Jackie Robinson. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Robinson was a superstar on and off the field, which makes celebrating his legacy effortless. We often forget how good of a baseball player he was due to his impact away from the diamond.

Robinson was a six-time All-Star. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1947. Then in 1949, Robinson earned the Most Valuable Player award and became a World Series Champion in 1955. It is hard to imagine that someone could be as impactful in their respective sport as a player as they were as a person.

Robinson gave us the blueprint because he was a five-tool player that contributed in every single way to his baseball team.

We recognize many of the most influential people throughout history in America. In terms of sports, Robinson sits right at the top of any list. Baseball does a good job of remembering his importance but based on the significance of Robinson breaking the color barrier, they could even do a little more. It would also be nice to see some of the other sports show more appreciation for the pioneers of their games as well.

Featured Image: Photo of Jackie Robinson in 1947. Photo by Scurlock Studios. The image is. courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History: Archives Center.