Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox

Today is Jackie Robinson day around baseball, a day marked by reverence and the league-wide adoption of the number 42, honoring the Dodgers second baseman who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Coming on the heels of the release of the movie 42, telling the tale of Jackie Robinson to a whole new generation of Beliebers and Directioners, gives this year’s edition of Jackie Robinson day a little extra resonance.

In some of the more snide corners of the world, a small amount of Jackie Robinson fatigue pops up on occasion. Some believe the soft-focus blanket coverage obscures the significance of the achievement, or at least cheapens it into a marketing gimmick and the “forced” participation makes the tribute ring a little hollow.

It’s a lazy writerly trick to chalk these feelings to a fabricated straw man so let’s say they could, in the proper light, pass as my own. Until, that is, I take the time to reflect on the true impact of Jackie Robinson’s journey and struggle to reach the Majors leagues, becoming the first African American player to set foot on a big league field.

Any story, like the Jackie Robinson fable, takes on a life of its own as it passes through the ages. The participants become folk heroes, the villains even more cartoonish with every re-telling. Jackie Robinson is now just that: a folk hero. He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things, in an extraordinary situation against extraordinary odds.

The edges of the story are nicely rounded, sixty-five years after the fact, the story sanitized to include only a hero overcoming odds for the betterment of the everyday life for each and every American.

There is a difference between truth and fact. The above statement might not be fact but, in my mind, it is certainly true. Jackie Robinson was just a baseball player yet he was so much more to many, many people. The number one reason it is important to remember Jackie Robinson because it is so easy to forget.

Treacly as it might be, the story is a touching one which, quite necessarily, upset the order of a national pillar. Not many people can say they changed a national institution for the better. Jackie Robinson wasn’t a saint but it doesn’t matter if he was or he was not. He was a man who overcame. Branch Rickey was not an altruistic humanist but it doesn’t matter, the reverberations are still felt today.

So let the players all wear 42 on April 15. Let Hollywood cut corners and create a product which, while it might not be The Great American Film, might remind those in need of a nudge or a refresher. Today, baseball pays tribute to Jackie Robinson because his story is one worthy of tribute. No need to overcomplicate or tilt at windmills. The last thing we can afford to do is forget.

As I write this, unfathomable scenes emerged from Boston. There is no measuring stick for heroism. The grave situation in the same city as the header photo of this post doesn’t pale the significance of Jackie Robinson Day. If anything, it helps to remember the distances some folks will go in the name of good, even in the face of unspeakable evil.