Jackie Robinson-His Contributi Essay, Research Paper
Jackie Robinson: His Contribution to Sports
There was once a time when Goliath white men roamed the earth. They had names similar to Boog, Harmon, and Moose (Richmond 184). They wandered throughout the empty countryside carrying wooden sticks, smacking harsh fastballs delivered by pitchers with names like Whitey and Don and Bob. Peter Richmond writes, They lived for one thing and one thing alone: to swat mighty homeruns that would make us roar in delight. They were the stars of the favorite game in the land. In the meantime, the grass turned into plastic and a new group of sluggers swiped through the artificial turf. Then catastrophe struck the game of baseball. Greed, complacency, and unions took the sport into a Dark Age, and the people began to lose interest. As other sports transcended baseball s popularity, the once national pastime started to become extinct. Then, the game discovered a new way to survive: by adapting, and by promoting and embracing and marketing its multiethnic heritage (Richmond 184). A legendary hero, Jack Roosevelt Robinson, was born. Robinson is a pioneer of modern society he set a personal standard for determination and in doing so raised the power of African- American athletes, thereby transforming the sports world.
On January 31, 1919, Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia; he was the last child of sharecroppers Mallie and Jerry Robinson. His mother became the heart of the Robinson household. Frustrated and overwhelmed by an inadequate income, Jerry abandoned his wife and five children. Alone, Mallie could not meet the physical demands of the farm, so she moved with the children to join her brother in Pasadena, California. In Margaret Davidson s biography of Jackie Robinson, he states, She was wise in the ways of human beings. I thought she must have some kind of magic to do all the things she did, to work so hard, and never complain and make all of us feel happy (Davidson 15). For Jackie, the house contained one thing that mattered the most: love (Davidson 14). He grew up in a positive environment that would exhibit an affect on his life in years to come.
During this time, America was two worlds that were afraid of each other; life was unkind to black people who tried to bring together these worlds (Aaron 104). Segregation made Robinson angry. He expressed this feeling by joining the Pepper Street Gang, made up by Japanese, Negroes, and Mexicans. The gang utilized its free time by stealing balls from a local golf course, swiping fruit from stores, and throwing dirt at passing cars (Davidson 16). Carl Anderson worked in shop across from where the gang spent most of its time. Anderson observed Robinson s actions and asked him, How do you think your mother would feel if one day she had to watch you being taken off to jail (Davidson 18)? From this point forward, Robinson left the gang. After this, sports enabled him to keep his balance. They gave him a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of doing something. Jackie was infuriated with intolerance and wanted to release his anger of being black in a white environment (Davidson 18-19). Sports helped vanquish the stigma of race (Early 2-3). Robinson s friends observed his brilliant athletic ability. One friend stated, He was one of a kind. He was not just going to be a spectacular athlete, but was going to be different (Davidson 5). With that, Robinson took his talent into Muir Technical High School, where he graduated in June 1937. In the following fall, he entered Pasadena Junior College. John Thurman, Karl Metton, and Tom Malley, the three coaches at Pasadena, were excited by Jackie s entrance. They thought that he displayed potential greatness in every activity he tackled. During the fall, he played football. When that season was over, he reported for basketball. For the duration of the spring, Jackie competed in baseball and track and field simultaneously (Mann 47). He graduated from Junior College in 1939 and entered the University of California at Los Angeles in September, needing only two years of college for completion and a degree. The athletic director at UCLA, Wilbur Johns, articulated, He was always in perfect condition he never drank or smoked and he always placed the welfare of his team above his chance for greater stardom (Mann 59). Jackie was more than just an outstanding athlete, but by far the greatest athlete in the history of sports at UCLA. To this day, he is the only winner of four varsity letters in the four sports that the college had to offer (Mann 77). By 1941, Robinson left UCLA to take a paying job at the National Youth Administration. Because the NYA was composed of young males of all colors, Jackie saw it as an ideal instrument for the correction of the very factors that had so deeply influenced his life (Mann 80). His job there lasted only until March 1942, when he was drafted into the army and sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, for basic training. In November 1944, Robinson was honorably discharged from the army. After his dismissal, he experienced repeated incidents of racial inequality; he held the army accountable for its black soldiers. In 1949, the armed forces were integrated (Rhoads 2). This event caused the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers , Branch Rickey, to notice Robinson s willpower. Robinson, to him, was the catalyst that baseball needed.
During the war, baseball did not prosper. Arthur Mann asserts that the fans couldn t appreciate this low caliber of baseball skill (Mann 13). Rickey saw at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, the Negro domination of track and field. He did not expect them to dominate in baseball, but he simply felt that if they could be great athletes in one or two sports, baseball could be a third (Mann 13). He believed that Robinson s early experiences of playing and working with whites and of serving in the army, gave him an understanding many other black players did not have (AFRO-America). Rickey had one goal: the pursuit of players who could bring a pennant to Brooklyn. Nothing else mattered. The only question was, Could he play ball (Mann fwd.)? He acted out of a combination of idealism and pragmatism to recruit Robinson to break baseball s racial barrier (Purvis 2). Cautiously, Rickey took a first step, weighing the possibilities for a Negro player in the major league. He devised a six-stage plan that had to be carried through in order to succeed (Mann 12). Rickey stated, We are going to be the bushes, and we will take whatever comes out, and that might include a Negro player or two (Mann 11). Robinson was already a part of the Negro league s Kansas City Monarchs (Rhoads 2). Rickey observed Robinson and signed him to a minor league contract with the Dodgers farm team in Montreal. He excelled as a player and in 1947, earned a spot on the Major League team s roster. The people of Brooklyn gathered around Robinson from the start; they could see his athletic aptitude. However, they knew that their team and the fans were a part of a significant sociological episode that would have repercussions in many spheres in social life (AFRO America).
On April 15, 1947, the inspiration began, as Robinson became the first African American athlete to participate in Major League Baseball (Aaron 1). According to Gerald Early, he entered a lily-white industry amid cries that he was unqualified, and he succeeded, on merit, beyond anyone s wildest hope (2). He simply would not be defeated, not by any other team and not by life. Robinson s brother Mack declared that he broke the color line in baseball. [ ] Blacks have made it in all areas because Jackie Robinson showed the world we could (Davidson 89). At the time, baseball was beyond a doubt America s pastime. Raymond Doswell, of the Negro League Baseball Museum, knew that in general, integrating baseball would bring down a lot of barriers in this country (Rhoads 3). Nonetheless, it was difficult for Robinson, as a black player, to be accepted equally. But his extraordinary performance quieted the critics and gained him the respect he deserved (Bittingsley 28). The Dodgers of the Robinson era was one of the most successful and exciting teams in National League history (Purvis 2). During his first year of play, he earned Rookie of the Year honors. After two years, Robinson was named the League s Most Valuable Player. In his ten years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he produced six pennant-winning teams (S.I. Almanac 816). Robinson used his athletic stature and popularity to turn society s focus towards humanity and equality for black and whites (AFRO America). Consequently, the prevailing African American athlete replaced the once white dominated athletic ground.
Today with the supremacy of black players in professional sports, it seems incomprehensible that just under fifty years ago, not only were black athletes absent in all mainstream sporting arenas, but their playing was simply not an option and even illegal in some states (AFRO- America). S.L. Price emphasizes in his Sports Illustrated article, Whatever Happened to the White Athlete?, There is an understanding in sports now; it is not that blacks are the dominant racial group playing, but also that they possess superior athletic skills and have thus transformed the way sports are played. For instance, in the National Basketball League, blacks fill 80% of the league s roster spots. In the NFL, 67% of the players are black; they hold a strong lock on the skill positions of defensive back, wider receiver, and running back. In the sport that Robinson helped create, baseball, the black athlete is not as pronounced, representing 17% of the players, with many Black Latinos making up 20%. However, African Americans have won 41% of the MVP awards. The supremacy of the African American is more visible on the collegial level. In Division I college basketball, 61% of its members are of African descent and 52% in Division I football. Within the USA Today High School All USA Teams, in basketball and football, 36 of the 40 participants were black, leaving only four positions open to Caucasian athletes. A Sports Illustrated poll indicates that young African-American males see sports as a rare opportunity for advancement. They care more about sports because sports are one of the few ways in America that blacks could make money. After a six month inquiry into the subject of race and sports, including interviews with coaches, athletes, executives, and a nationwide poll of 1,835 middle school and high school students, all indications are that the white athlete will continue his steady fade (Price). With this in mind, white Americans have come to embrace black sports heroes in a way, which would seem unimaginable in 1947.
Along with Robinson, there have been many other noteworthy Negroes who have helped change the mainstream of athletics. Henry Hank Aaron was a ballplayer who observed Robinson s effects during his own generation. From the first time he saw him, he began to appreciate the impact that Jackie had on his teammates. Aaron avowed, Around them he just made everyone a better person. Once he put on his uniform, he was a winner (Aaron and Howe 1-2). Aaron told his father that he would be in the major leagues before Jackie retired (Aaron 1). Soon enough, Aaron accomplished his goal when he played with the Braves and the Dodgers. Aaron, also known as Hommerin Hank , has the all-time home-run record with 755, and runs batted in record of 2,297. He holds the all-time third place hit record with 3,771 and led the league in homeruns and RBIs four times. Aaron states, I was inspired to dedicate my homerun record to the same great cause that Jackie dedicated his life (Aaron 3). Racial paranoia that once existed in this country had become extinct. Stanly Crouch, a Black Social critic, revealed, You have white girls who are Michael Jordan fanatics and their parents don t care (Price). Jordan was a player who dominated his team. No other team in NBA history had won 200 games over a three year span. With Jordan s leadership, the Chicago Bulls went 203-43 in three full seasons. He led the NBA in its most basic statistical categories every year he competed. No one in the history of team sports has done that. He also won six championships in his last six full seasons (Hirdt 62). Jordan was an athlete who ignited teammates and fans (Friend 52). He was a role model to young children and adults, and even a mentor to aspiring athletes. Tigers Woods, another Afro-American athlete, was stimulated by the Jordan era. Woods radically altered the notion of golf, his sport. (Diaz 62). At age twenty-two, Woods became the youngest winner ever, scoring a record low 270, winning by the widest margin in tournament history (S.I. Almanac 822). Robinson was clearly the catalyst for these athletes. He ignited the inspiration for African American athletes around the world.
On October 24, 1972, Jackie Robinson died at age fifty-three, stricken with diabetes and blindness. By gracefully handling the challenge of integration, he shattered the conventional wisdom of the day that blacks and whites remained separate (CNN Interactive). In 1962, with a lifetime batting average of .311, he was elected into Baseball s Hall of Fame. In 1997, during the 50th anniversary of his entrance into the game, Bud Selig, the acting commissioner of MLB, announced that Robinson s jersey number 42 would be retired. In addition, a five-mile section of the parkway leading from Brooklyn to Shea Stadium in Queens was named Jackie Robinson Parkway (CNN Interactive). Congress and President Clinton authorized the minting of gold and silver coins in honor of Robinson. He was the first African American to be honored by the United States with a gold coin (USA Today). In that same year, a full semester course, illustrating the life and history of Robinson, was offered at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (USA Today). Throughout 1997, all teams wore a patch commemorating Robinson and his heroism. Jackie was not the best African American athlete, but he played the game with a ferocious creativity that gave the country a good idea of what it had been missing all those years (Aaron 2).
Robinson is seen as a racial martyr . He was a working class member of an oppressed minority group, who challenged the white dominion symbolized by sports as a political reification of superior, privileged expertise (Early 3). During the next two generations, the once monochromatic world of team sports became a pattern of racial equality. One milestone followed another (Price). Robinson changed the game. All tributes given to him are trivial when compared to what he did (Hoffer 81). President William Clinton believed, America is a stronger, richer country when we all work together and give each other a chance (CNN Interactive). Robinson s lgacy does not end with baseball. It was his courage in the face of racism that made him an unparalleled agent of changes (Hoffer 81).
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