One Question after Watching 42

courage at bat 42He rubbed red clay between is hands when he stepped up to the plate.

No matter what they threw at him–racial slurs, death threats, or fast balls to the head–Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate over and over again until he changed this country.

While most images of the Civil Rights Movement (which started nearly a decade after Robinson’s debut in the International League) show groups, often crowds of blacks marching, sitting in, picketing, and boycotting together, every day Jackie Robinson had to go alone, out there in the open arena, exposed to the world, one black man in the white field of Major League Baseball.

Though Jackie Robinson played the star role, a whole cast of characters also stepped up to the plate to help him round the bases, so to speak. This was, after all, much bigger than him, and it was way more than just a baseball game.

Rachel Robinson

First, I applaud the brilliant, on-screen display of love and friendship, passion and partnership between Jackie and his wife Rachel.

It’s by far one of the best depictions of a black couple in mainstream Hollywood, partly because their marriage is so central to the story, as it obviously was in real life.

At every home game, Jackie looked to the stands to find his wife. One smile, one gesture between them communicated more than other spectators could ever know.

She could’ve tried to talk him out of it. Told him that he was putting his son’s life at risk. Said she was tired of fighting alongside him. Complained that it was just baseball, just a silly game. She could’ve broken down. She could’ve left him.

Instead, she stepped up to the plate.

I’m sure she had her fears. Some of the death threats were serious enough to get the FBI involved. And of course there were the injuries on the field, intentional throws at Jackie’s head, but she never wavered.

Branch Rickey

The Dodgers General Manager, Branch Rickey, may not be a household name for the majority of us, but his role is undeniable.

He displayed the kind of courage I wish more whites had displayed throughout history. He didn’t wait for an opportunity to change baseball and ultimately the country, because he knew that the opportunity would never come. Someone had to actively create the opportunity to fight injustice.

He could have died saying I wish baseball was an integrated sport, but instead of wishing it, he made it happen.

Rickey gave more than the usual passive “support” for blacks. He did more than merely “not doing harm.” He did more than merely comforting himself with the notion that he would have signed a black player if he’d only had the chance. He did more than sympathize and feel bad about the whole thing.

Whether his motive was money, guilt, or fear of what God might say on judgment day, Branch Rickey took unequivocal, decisive action to integrate professional baseball.

We’ll never know if there was another player that Rickey could’ve called on that had both the skill and the courage to take on the challenge of single handedly integrating the entire sport of professional baseball, America’s most beloved sport, but we should rejoice that there was Jack Robinson.

I do. I marvel at the perfect alignment of Rickey’s determination with Robinson’s will and Robinson’s mental and physical preparedness. It was, as we say, perfect timing.

The “Team”

There were players who preferred to be traded rather than play with Robinson. Others remained with the Dodgers but never accepted him as a teammate.

But there were some players who seized the opportunity to prove themselves to be better men, and they were a better team for it.

There were many others, on and off the team, depicted in the film and not, who stepped in one way or another, like the sports writer Wendell Smith.

The Film

The first important thing about history is that it happened. The second important thing is that we remember it. Third, we must learn from it.

Foolish people insist that we forget the past in order to live in the present and move forward to the future. But it’s our past that got us to where we are in the present, and if we want a brighter future, we must learn from that past.

So, thank you to Brian Helgeland and the entire crew, to all of the actors, especially Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, and Harrison Ford.

I read a commentary that said that 42 might be a little old fashioned and safe for some audiences. It definitely lacks the firestorm of debate that surrounded Django Unchained, even though 42 does use its fair share of the “N” word. And In terms of its depiction of black characters, 42 infinitely outshines movies like The Blind Side.

I think the cast and crew of 42 definitely stepped up to the plate on this one and possibly hit it out of the park.

Now You

After watching the film twice so far, once with my siblings, and a second time with my mother, our initial reaction to some of the scenes was: This still happens!

There’s a line in the movie that sounds like something Rush Limbaugh would say: “This ain’t the America I know!”

It may not be in the field of baseball, but we all need to step up to the plate when it comes to carrying the torch for racial equality and justice.

We all have a role to play.

So I leave you with one question that Jackie Robinson’s character asks the Pittsburgh pitcher and ultimately asks himself at the end of the movie:

What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid to talk about racism because it’s so passé?

Is it too taboo in your circle of post-racial friendships?

Will it make you seem uncool or too uptight?

Will you alienate yourself from your family?

Are you scared that you’ll come out looking like the bad guy or the victim?

Is it too painful? Too frustrating? Too complicated?

Well, a bad thing won’t go away simply because you refuse to talk about it.

You have to have the courage to confront it.

What are you afraid of?

2 thoughts on “One Question after Watching 42

  1. GREAT commentary on a crucial moment in a history that America should be so proud of it vows, like a reformed addict, to never let racism happen again.

    As a white person I have to ask, WHY is racism still an issue?

    A sub-commentary to the courage needed to take such a monumental step: every oppressed group needs allies in the oppressive group, i.e., we all need each other. White people have to speak up against racism; men have to speak up against sexism; straight people have to speak up against homophobia; religious people have to speak up against persecution of those who believe differently.

    Thanks for this great article.

    • And thanks for the great comment! I so agree. Being neutral in a time of injustice really means that we’ve sided with the oppressor. Humans are imperfect, so perhaps there will always be racism on an individual level, but the fact that there’s still so much structural racism is what angers me most.

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