José Antonio Zapico
The legend who overcame racism
Every 15 April since 2004 baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day - the anniversary of his debut, in 1947, in the Major Leagues.
Robinson was the first African American to do so, going down not just in sporting history, but in the annals of social progress in the US too.
At that time African American players were only allowed to play in the Negro Leagues, considered to be of lower ability. Something Robinson's stats proved to be utterly false.
Jackie Robinson was the youngest of six children. When he was six months old his father left the family.
Despite a tough upbringing, Robinson got into university.
Thanks to his athletic abilities he achieved sporting accreditation in four disciplines: athletics, American football, basketball and baseball.
He wasn’t the only athlete in his family. His big brother, Mack, won the silver medal in the 200m at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, four tenths of a second behind Jesse Owens.
Robinson was called up to fight in the Second World War, delaying his decision on which sport to dedicate his life to.
Upon returning to the US he accepted an offer to play baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs in one of the so-called Negro Leagues.
His outstanding stats were noticed by Branch Rickey, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the Major Leagues.
Rickey met with Robinson to sign him for the Dodgers, to play initially for their farm club, the Montreal Royals.
The main objective of the Dodgers’ manager was to see whether Robinson would be able to cope with the abuse he would have to face.
His welcome to the Dodgers dressing room was a letter signed by various players refusing to play with him.
Jackie had to face humiliating conditions. He had to sleep in a different hotel to his teammates, and suffered abuse from fans and rival players…
A training session was even cancelled with the excuse of complying with a law segregating physical activity between blacks and whites.
In spite of all this, in his first season Jackie led the stats for stolen bases and was named Rookie of the Year.
In 1997, fifty years after his debut, all the teams in the MLB retired his number 42 jersey.
In spite of the racist challenges he faced, his belief in the fight for civil rights was ever-present in his life.
In fact, he was tried in a military court for refusing to sit in the rear part of a bus, as ordered to by a superior officer.
Jackie was absolved of all charges and finished his military career with honours.
Two films tell the story of his arrival in the Major Leagues, one, in 1950, with the Robinson himself as the star.
The other, ’42’, from 2013, was directed by Brian Helgeland, with Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman.
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