Over the weekend, the most amazing film on race, courage and the temperament of a history maker, was released. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and emotions throughout the movie never waned. Scene after scene captured the intensity of living in segregation and the pain of existing within that culture as a black ball player. Chadwick Boseman was masterful playing the character of Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford was remarkable playing the Brooklyn Dodgers Executive or boss, Branch Rickey. As the movie opens, no time is wasted setting the stage for introducing Jackie Robinson into America’s favorite pastime- baseball. Wearing the No. 42, Jackie Robinson became the first black Major League baseball player to play in America.
You would think that with all the fuss being made about the movie, the league would be bursting at the seams with black players; quite the contrary. Black players account for less than 10%- only 8.05% of major league baseball. The black community, it is said, is not being attracted to baseball as one would think. Economics is at issue again. The equipment needed to play baseball such as a bat, glove, hat, shoes and other equipment outweighs that of basketball and football. Black youth just cannot afford it, and recruitment to baseball has not been made a priority in communities across the country to include colleges.
It is often said that if you want to get the same results, just keep doing the same thing. And if you want extraordinary outcomes be willing to ask good questions, do a lot of listening and then put your resources where the questions lead to answers. As a result of black players continuing a downhill presence on the field, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is announcing that a, “17-member diversity task force” charged with figuring out why there is such a steep decline in black participation is being created.
The movie, however, moved beyond baseball rhetoric. Principles used to integrate baseball were easily transferable to a number of challenges that are faced today. What it took to break barriers and shatter ceilings in 1947, are paramount to what it will take today. It will take power understanding- no direct experience necessary, what it is like to be marginalized; and then find the courage to do something about it… leveraging position and authority without looking or turning back.
There has to be a willingness built upon extraordinary courage, to do what is right. The risk is great, but the outcomes must be seen as greater. There is something about righteous acts when infused in a story line that is under your direct control, cannot be ignored. So was the case with Harrison Ford’s character Branch Rickey. He knew in order for baseball to be everything it could be, “Negroes” had to be given the right to play. And with this belief, his life was forever changed as he faced friend and foe who disagreed vehemently with his decision and vision for baseball. Nonetheless, he made the decision to desegregate baseball and now; the rest is history.
(Below is a link to a great article as preparation is being made to celebrate the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson as the first black in major league baseball)