If you’ve never heard of Jackie Robinson, he was the very first African-American player to be integrated into Major League Baseball in 1947. As a skilled athlete his ability was rarely questioned when considered for coloured teams; his track record was ideal as a devoted Christian, husband, veteran, and educated college man. On paper Jackie Robinson was the type of player that major teams would fight over, had he not been black.
Despite overwhelming odds and a tremendous amount of abuse towards him and his family, Robinson was able to clear the path for fellow coloured teammates to enter Major League Baseball. As much as this feat is credited solely to Robinson, it would never have been possible without the vision, faith and courage of Brooklyn Dodgers Executive, Branch Rickey, who saw injustice and acted according to his ability, power and resource.
This is the first in a three-part series highlighting the major lessons and encouragements that can be taken from this underrated story and applied to modern political and personal environments.
Exhaust your excuses
As a young boy, Jackie Robinson was exposed to racial prejudice when white members of his community burnt a cross in his front yard and treated his family as less than human. In a time and place such as the one Robinson grew up in, being targeted unfairly, it would be easy to feel powerless and worthless.
It’s mentioned that once when a white man in Robinson’s community said a racial slur, Jackie and some friends retaliated by spreading tar onto the man’s front lawn. When Jackie’s mother found out, she made the boys repair the lawn while she supervised.
Jackie was arrested without cause, denied food, service, public transportation, respect, and was brutally abused. The question behind all this is why, having every excuse in the world, would Robinson take on the tremendous responsibility of being the first coloured man in MLB? Considering the abuse and disrespect could only get worse before it gets better.
The only way to truly have no more options, is to have exhausted them. To the point where one has tried everything in their power to right a wrong, create something new or apply for a job, is the point where it’s safe to say everything has been tried and tested.
At that point though, it’s unlikely those words can be said. Often, we try excuses before options have even been explored, it's a simple trap to fall into and one I’m not proud of repeatedly falling into myself.
It’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re doing all we can when we haven’t scratched the surface. Jackie could get away with saying he’d done all he could to resist the injustice towards him and his family, because he had retaliated, but he saw a better future than one where he had to keep fighting; our biggest oppressor is often our own mind. I’d say Jackie ran out of excuses when he ran out of options.
Step up to the plate
I’ve never played baseball in my life apart from throwing the ball with some of my American friends a few years ago, but I do know the phrase ‘step up to the plate’. It’s a phrase commonly used even without the context of sport. In baseball it means to step up near the home plate in preparation for striking the ball once pitched, as far as I understand anyway. In terms of it being a commonly used phrase though, it means to move into a position where one is prepared for a task.
The fact that this is a baseball term is awesome, but the fact that it is a direct example of what Jackie Robinson did to change baseball and culture is even better. Robinson would not have been in any sort of position to make change if he hadn’t tried his best when playing baseball; his opportunities were born out of his effort not luck.
If Robinson had been somewhat apathetic or unmotivated, he would have been quickly pushed to the side and probably not made it past his high school baseball team, but he understood that there was something bigger than baseball going on. Because of this, he was able to ‘step up to the plate’ to take the first swing at a better future for him and every other black baseball player.
Jackie Robinson serves as a good reminder of where we can be courageous in our own lives and use our skill to change culture where it’s needed. Daniel chapter six, verse three says: “Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom”.
As Christians we ought to be a reflection of Jesus, and if Jesus does things excellently, then the world should be able to look at the work of Christians and see a spirit of excellence.
The biographical film of Jackie Robinson’s story, 42 – The True Story of an American Legend, can be currently viewed on Netflix.
Jesse Moore draws from the Bible and classical literature for insight into life’s tough questions. He is currently studying at university to become a film-maker.
Jesse Moore’s previous articles can be viewed at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jesse-moore.html