Throughout the course of 1997, and especially during the baseball season, much attention will be given to Jackie Robinson, for it was exactly 50 years ago that this gifted athlete from a poor and broken home in Georgia shattered baseball’s colour barrier and, in the process, caused a sociological revolution.
On the night of April 15, 1997 50 years to the day of his major league debut, baseball honoured the legacy of Jackie Roosevelt Robinson in a special ceremony in New York’s Shea Stadium prior to the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. Acting commissioner Bud Selig told the crowd and untold millions through radio and television media that “Jackie Robinson was greater than the game of baseball,” and that this high accolade belongs to Jackie and to no other performer who ever donned a baseball uniform.
The firm opposition that existed in 1947 to include blacks in major league baseball is worth studying. When Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, raised the issue of allowing a black athlete to play in the major leagues, each of the other 15 owners opposed it. Despite this complete absence of support from his colleagues, Rickey went ahead and began grooming Jackie Robinson to play with his own Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson played his warm-up year for the minor league franchise in Montreal. It was believed that racial prejudice would not be as virulent in a Canadian city as it might be at that time virtually anywhere in the United States. Robinson, however, had the misfortune of playing that year for a Mississippi-born manager who personally held that blacks are not full human beings.
During spring training of his inaugural year, there was an anti-Robinson petition being circulated among his team mates, led by a pocket of Southern players. Dodger manager Leo Durocher called a special meeting and effectively crushed the revolt before it had a chance to get started. Some opposing teams threatened to boycott if they had to perform against a team that had a black player. Robinson was not only a constant target for racial slurs and vile invective off the field, but was routinely thrown at, spiked and shoved, while he was on the field.
Despite the seemingly overwhelming obstacles he faced, Jackie Robinson not only survived, but prevailed. Not only that, he changed forevermore, the face of baseball, as well as the society in which he lived, struggled and dreamed. Fittingly, engraved on his tombstone in Cypress Hills cemetery on New York City’s Brooklyn-Queens border, just 16 kilometres from Ebbets Field where Robinson toiled throughout his ten year career with the Dodgers, are these words: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on the lives of others.”
What does this legacy of Jackie Robinson hold for pro-life people? Is Robinson a role model, a harbinger of hope, a powerful symbol of redemption for the oppressed? Almost single-handedly he broke the colour barrier. Surely there are many more barriers that need to be dismantled if our society is ever to attain its potential. Is there a connection between breaking the colour barrier and breaking the “birth barrier?” Can a model for one also be a model for the other?
I think pro-life advocates who are committed to breaking the birth barrier so that all people, regardless of their being born or not yet born, have a fair chance to play the game of life, are actually beyond what Jackie Robinson has so nobly advanced. Robinson is a trailblazer who, in 1947 and prior to that, was deemed a troublemaker. Human history is filled with such misunderstood heroes. Consider Socrates, Christ, Columbus, Pasteur, Lincoln, Ghandi, Solzhenitsyn, and Martin Luther King. History’s most important trailblazers were initially viewed by the masses as troublemakers. The masses are in love with the status quo. Posterity, having more wisdom than the masses, always has the last word.
Those true trailblazers, and pro-life people can count themselves among their legion, have their eye on something larger than themselves. And this is why they are trailblazers for posterity, whereas they are troublemakers for only a relatively short period of time.
Robinson as role model
It is most encouraging for pro-life enthusiasts to know and record and take heart that the man we might regard as a worthy role model for 1997, Jackie Robinson, has not only been fully exonerated, but is honoured, as much as secular society can honour and revere a human being, as a man worthy of being imitated.
Secular society, that so heedlessly abides abortion, should have second thoughts about whom it asks others to imitate. Yet, the legacy of Jackie Robinson has much to offer pro-lifers: courage, hope, patience, meekness, and the promise that these heroic virtues in tandem will not only pay rich dividends on a personal level, but will ultimately lead us all to victory. Pro-life people are at moment far ahead of the secular world. One day the secular world will catch up and honour those tenacious trailblazers it once knew only as troublemakers.
(Donald DeMarco is a professor of philosophy at the University of St. Jerome’s College, Waterloo, Ontario).