The Garden City Telegram
5/11/2013
SOUTHWEST LIFE

'42' a reminder that country still dealing with racism

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The movie "42" should be required viewing in every school in the country.

The movie is about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball.

It chronicles his first season in the bigs, 1947, and what he endured in a country deep into racism and segregation.

Imagine showing up for work and people were allowed to curse you, call you names, throw things at you, and you could not raise a fist or utter a word in reply.

You had to take it or else incite a riot, or worse yet, reinforce stereotypes about your race.

I remember 1974, when Henry Aaron passed Babe Ruth as the all-time home run hitter.

I was 12, and it was the first time I recall hearing about people sending Aaron death threats because an African-American was passing a white man in the record books.

I remember thinking — unbelievably — that someone actually took the time to write a letter threatening to kill someone because he looked different.

That was 27 years after Robinson's debut.

Sometimes it seems not much has changed.

I could not have withstood everything that Robinson went through. Not many of us could.

That is why Brooklyn Dodgers team executive Branch Rickey picked Robinson. As he famously put it, "I'm not looking for someone who is strong enough to fight back, I'm looking for someone who is strong enough not to fight back."

Robinson was a strong, proud man, but his real strength came in his willingness and his ability to walk away and turn a deaf ear to what he was hearing.

One of the most poignant and disturbing scenes in the movies is when Philadelphia manager Ben Chapman stood on the grass in front of his dugout verbally abusing Robinson.

Chapman's barrage of racial insults, according to the movie, nearly broke Robinson.

To prove there is justice, baseball, even when segregation was the rule in our country, policed itself.

Chapman was let go by the Phillies after the season and only spent one more year in major league baseball, as a coach for Cincinnati in 1952.

Rickey knew African-Americans could play baseball as well as anyone playing in the major leagues. He knew that by opening up the game, he had a better chance to win and could make money by drawing more African-American fans to stadiums.

He was a businessman, after all, and no one has any problems with the color green.

It's been a long time since Robinson played. He retired after the 1956 season, and died at 53 in 1972 of a heart attack, having suffered from complications from diabetes.

Since then, the country has come a long way, but it is still learning.

That is why this movie and Robinson's legacy are so important.

There is still much to be learned about tolerance and acceptance.

If Robinson's story can touch people and make them think twice about hating someone based on their skin color, then that will help us become a better society.

The day Robinson stepped on the field, the wheels were put in motion. Now each of us needs to make sure they keep turning.

Patrick Murphy, of Humphrey, Neb., is a former assistant managing editor of The Telegram.