“42”—The Jackie Robinson Story, More Than One Message for Today’s Athletes

I absolutely love inspirational stories, especially when they lead to positive and needed change. I just can’t get enough of them. The recently released movie 42 is just such a story as it depicts the tale of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball.

An athlete of immense ability, Jackie is brought to the Major League Brooklyn Dodgers ball club by Dodgers GM, Branch Rickey. The reasoning behind Rickey’s decision to tackle such a controversial and poignant issue (especially in the 1940’s, knowing full well what a decision like that would bring—and it did), is alluded to several times throughout the film.

At first, the Dodger GM tactfully redirects the racial undertones of such a question by stating that it’s about winning ball games, and the $$$$ that will bring. However, you KNOW there is a much more deeply rooted, and more admirable, explanation for Rickey’s thought process here. The way the film moves forward seems indicative of such.

However, it is not until much later in the film that we learn the true motivations behind Mr. Rickey’s decision (something I won’t spoil here), one that helped take baseball out of its dark and horribly discriminating past, and into a much brighter, more equitable future.

Now, in order for an objective of this magnitude to see fruition, with all that that would encompass, Ricky knew it would take one very special person, an African American ball player with all the goods, and the right personality to go with them.

And that person was Jackie Robinson, one very skilled, courageous, and motivated athlete, an intuitive individual who would come to realize that his story was oh so much bigger than just himself. A person with extraordinary abilities and enough gumption to take on the very problematic task of breaking down the walls of segregation existing in Major League Baseball in the 1940’s.

It would be difficult to argue anything different than that Jackie Robinson’s efforts, almost singlehandedly, tore down the racial bias that existed in the major leagues during his time, and society as whole, opening doors to others in all sports, not just baseball.

For me…his story (as depicted in the film) brings nothing but awe and admiration. What a great story…what a great turn of the page in our history…what an example for others to follow.

Yet...from my perspective, there is another very important message in that film “42.” One that might easily go unnoticed if you’re either not looking for it or, inadvertently, don’t happen to put certain pieces together.

There is a young boy in the film, shown on several occasions, that looks up to Jackie Robinson and what he is accomplishing. He sees him as a “role model,” someone whose path he would like to follow someday. You might even say, from this young man’s eyes, Jackie Robinson is his hero.

Expounding on this further, I see this young boy as kind of metaphor for many young athletes of his time, kids who loved baseball during this era. To many a youngster...Jackie Robinson represented an idea or “ideal.” One where adversity is challenged and met head on, with honest, sincere, unbreakable, and consistently applied inner will and determination.

A never-give-up type attitude which equates to actions that build one’s character…one’s integrity. The kind of things most teachers, coaches, and parents of athletes subscribe to as important developmental pieces of the competitive sports experience for athletes.

Which brings me right back to that second part of my title to this piece on the film “42,” More Than One Message For Today’s Athletes.

Metaphorically speaking…aren’t we also at a crossroads (so to speak) in today’s sports and youth sports culture? One where unethical choices and behavior by too many athletes create an unpleasant environment for our sports-minded youth to grow up in. Where life lessons (which come with a stronger focus on the process) are forsaken for outcomes like winning, breaking records, scholarship, fame, and/or fortune.

The kind of outcomes that lead many down that “winning at all costs” path we hear so much about these days, where one loses perspective on what it’s all supposed to be about…and because of this, do not understand how real, true, long lasting and character-driven athletic excellence is achieved.

No…we are not facing the same hurtful, racist type attitudes of the Jackie Robinson era in sports. Things that made absolutely no sense, then or now, based on any form of logical thought process.

I mean really…the idea that one’s abilities, potential, and/or limits, are based on the color of one’s skin (or one’s religion, gender, sexual preference, or what have you) are completely foreign to any intelligent way of thinking. It is such a ridiculous thought that I can’t even entertain the idea…however, I digress.

What we are facing in sports today is a situation where we need, again, metaphorically speaking, another Jackie Robinson (maybe several). Athletes willing to take a stand against the current tide in sports where winning at all costs, entitlement-type attitudes and a loss of perspective tend to dominate.

This statement is directed right at our future youth sports stars, the younger generation of athletes who just might have the guts, the internal fortitude, to make a damn difference (something too many of our current sports stars know little about).

Individuals who, like Jackie Robinson, can set a better, more worthwhile example, worthy for those younger than themselves to follow because of the actions they take and examples they set.

People (different than the Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez types of the world) who can look themselves in the mirror and truly be proud of what they have accomplished…when all is said and done, because what they’ve achieved is actually real!!!

And if you are one of those athletes, or individuals, who simply can’t see what all the fuss is about, yes…I’m talking about people like Armstrong and Rodriguez (and supporters of their type of thought process); the kind who feels the status quo is just fine. Similar to those in the movie “42” who could not see beyond their hurtful, unjustifiable, racist attitudes and the harm that brought; for those like that…well, I ask you to step aside and let REAL athletes take their place.

What do I mean by real athletes? The kind who have discovered the importance of winning from the inside out and who truly understand and appreciate that there is something bigger than themselves that they play for. Like that little, young athletic boy and/or girl who watch them play, dreaming about being the best they can be and telling themselves, “Someday…maybe, I can be just like them!!!”

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