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Happy Jackie Robinson Day

Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ ’42’ at the Chinese Theatre on April 9, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

I often hear from friends and family that professional sports are not “important.”  That if people cared as much about their communities as a whole as they did about whether or not their team won or lost, the world might be a better place.

I say that sports aren’t, ultimately, important — except when they are. If the Mariners win tonight will world peace be achieved?  Of course not. Can pro sports be a catalyst to affect social change for the better? Without a doubt.

Enter Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

Today, Major League Baseball celebrates “Jackie Robinson Day.”  It is the 67th anniversary of the first game ever played in the big leagues by an African-American ballplayer when Robinson stepped onto the diamond on April 15th, 1947 playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It was as big, if not bigger, than the iconic refusal by Rosa Parks to take a seat on the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama – an event which occurred some eight years after Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.

Recently, the story was made into a critically-acclaimed film entitled “42”  (click here to see the trailer) which was the jersey number worn by Robinson.  It depicted the monumental decision to allow a black man to play in the same league as whites and the abuses that were inflicted upon Robinson by those who did not want to see blacks allowed in the game.  Racial slurs. Death threats.  Things that seem almost unfathomable today, yet were very much the reality he persevered through.

Other than Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., there is no singular person who had as much to do with ending the way blacks were treated before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was finally passed.  And, like Dr. King, he did it non-violently.  He affected a massive societal and cultural change in the United States by playing those oh-so-“unimportant” sports.

Jackie’s legacy lives on to this day.  In the summer of 1995, my son died in utero at around six months.  His mother and I bestowed him with the middle name of Robinson out of respect for the man and the hope that my boy would live up to the standard of honor Jackie laid before him.

Fans enter the park in left field under a sign honoring Jackie Robinson prior to the game at Safeco Field. All uniformed team members are wearing jersey number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The only jersey number retired (meaning, no other player can wear it) by all 30 Major League Baseball teams is Robinson’s number 42.  Today, every single player will wear that number in honor of not only one of the greatest ballplayers of all-time, but of a modern day pioneer who courageously blazed a trail that got an entire peoples a bit closer to “liberty and justice for all.”

On a day dedicated to the remembrance of a great American, I say professional sports are, indeed, pretty important.

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