We know Jackie Robinson is a model human being. He lived a life worth living. He left a legacy worthy of one of the best men in history. His faith and convictions guided him and he never backed down unless backing down was good for the greater good.
Truthfully, Jackie, we need you. The world will always need your character and conviction to do right. The scene in the movie “42” about Jackie Robinson where General Manager Branch Rickey confronts Robinson in the tunnel and both men’s convictions reach a climax is essential to life and one’s soul. “Jack” was medicine in a time and place that needed him. Rickey’s encouragement is the still small voice we often hear in our heads when making life decisions.
In the past, we honored Jackie Robinson and applauded the Dodgers Organization for doing right in “From Robinson to Roberts: Dodgers Have Led the Way” and “Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson, No. 42: A Life of Quotes in Action.” Today, we honor Jackie Robinson, as baseball does its yearly tribute to him around the League, with the five things you may not know about Jackie Robinson. Five things that continue to show why he was a remarkable man, someone to follow, emulate, and remember. The titles of each section may seem trivial upon your first read, but like a book meaning more than its cover, a man is much than what you see on the surface.
- He Lettered in Four Different Sports in High School
While attending John Muir High School in Pasadena, California, Robinson lettered in four sports: football, basketball, track, and baseball. He also played tennis. Robinson showed a knack for excellence and character that would be needed later on in his life. When many of us were out for a night on the town, Robinson was working. His commitment to being the best he could be was a sign of things to come. Other athletes would soon follow in his footsteps.
- He Played in a Baseball Game Against Ted Williams and Bob Lemon
In all the sadness of the racism Robinson faced in life, entering the League, and playing professional baseball, the irony of it all is that Hall of Fame Inductee Jackie Robinson played against Hall of Fame Inductees Ted Williams and Bob Lemon in the Pomona Annual Baseball Tournament in 1935. The tournament is no more, but here is a highlight from the game action:
“Muir Tech and San Diego Hoover met in the consolation finale at Pomona High, with Hoover prevailing 8-7. In that game, Hoover’s [Ted] Williams hit a 450-foot home run and [Jackie] Robinson had three hits and stole home. The press account of that game, in the Pomona Progress-Bulletin, is believed to be the first time a sports writer (in this case, the Prog’s David Meiklejohn) mentioned how worthy Robinson was of a major league contract, were it not for the color of his skin.”
Many professional athletes and Hall of Fame inductees in baseball and football have played in the now extinct tournament. Robinson had a vision, kept to a narrow path, and succeeded in two very important things: he succeeded in his game, baseball, and his life’s mission, while keeping his character. He did not let others opinions or actions taken against him guide his work.
- He Was a Police Officer and Was Once Arrested
While attending Pasadena Junior College, he was elected to the “Lancers,” a student-run police organization responsible for patrolling various school activities. Maybe not an officially uniformed Los Angeles Police Department peace officer, but the activity showed his willingness to listen, learn, and to be a part of the solution. He was, in five words, a man who took action.
Again, while attending junior college, Robinson demonstrated the passion and courage to stand up for what was right. He was arrested for protecting one of his friends who he felt was being wrongfully detained by a police officer. Robinson received a two-year suspended sentence pending successful completion of probation, but it would become a consistent theme for the man who never gave up fighting, always preferring action to inaction.
- He Once Played [Semi]-Professional Football in Hawaii
After graduating from Pasadena Junior College, Jackie Robinson enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. Before graduating, Robinson was soon to be married and he took a job as an athletic director with a government organization. When that job opportunity ended in 1941, he moved to Hawaii to play football for the racially integrated Honolulu Bears, a semi-professional football team. In December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor placed Jackie Robinson at the forefront of World War II.
- While Serving in the Army, He Refused to Give Up His Seat on the Bus
Before Rosa Parks in 1955, there was Jackie Robinson in 1944. While serving as an Army Officer in Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson attempted to board a desegregated military bus, but was ordered by the bus driver to move to the back of the bus because of the color of his skin. Robinson, currently recovering from an injury, did not take lightly to the racism. Robinson was arrested, received a court-martial, and was transferred to a different battalion under new leadership where he was promptly charged with public drunkenness even though he did not drink alcohol. The Army eventually acquitted him, but it was a sign of things to come for Robinson.
As written by John Vernon in “Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson: A 1944 Court-Martial,” Spring 2008, Vol. 40, No. 1:
“How he handled the military encounter was actually truer to the way the future Dodger approached life’s challenges than was understood to be the case during his first years within organized baseball. By that time he had learned calculated prudence, and so he decided to turn the other cheek. But although he learned the pragmatic necessity of occasionally being willing to cede territory temporarily, he certainly did not plan to do so forever, as his subsequent career would attest.”
Telling, that on the day that this author writes this article, it is the day that many of us celebrate Easter, a day all about turning the other cheek. We all have examples to follow. Jackie Robinson had his and we have him as another example of a life worth living.
Interestingly, we have covered five important moments in his life and yet he still had so much more to give.