"Mr Rickey, are you looking for a negro who is afraid to fight back?"
"Robinson, I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough NOT to fight back."
- conversation between Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey in August 1945
This was just one of the poignant moments in 42, the new movie about Jackie Robinson and the integration of Major League baseball in 1947.
I'm not going to write a movie review, but I will ramble on about how this movie made me feel.
I just got home from seeing this with my family, including my 11 and 9 year old kids. I'm sure those two learned a few new words tonight and they saw an ugly side of society they have never experienced or probably knew existed. But they enjoyed the movie, and in talking with them on the way home, it's clear they learned a whole lot more about how the bravery of a couple men changed the face of baseball and an entire nation.
Most people know enough about Jackie Robinson's life that I don't need to go over the events of the movie. It adds the obligatory Hollywood nonsense here and there, but it stays pretty much on topic through the film. 42 chronicles the time span of Robinson's ascension from the Negro Leagues in 1945 to the Dodgers minor league affiliate Montreal Royals to his debut with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947. The movie also does a very good job at highlighting the key role that his wife Rachel (also a Bruin) played during those turbulent years.
U.C.L.A. gets just two quick mentions early on in the movie, but it's enough. The connection was clear. Mr. Rickey even cited Jackie's playing on integrated teams at U.C.L.A. as one of the reasons he chose Robinson to be the player to break baseball's color barrier. However, the entire movie certainly made me think very deeply about what it means to be a Bruin
One of the visitors to BN recently mentioned that he sometimes rolls his eyes when we Bruins get on our pious high horses about the U.C.L.A. standards, and honestly, I can totally see understand he is coming from. If I were an outsider looking in, I would probably get the same impression. But I say this not to be holier-than-thou or pretend like we are owed anything. Being a Bruin does not mean we are better than anyone else. The truth, though, is that as Bruins, we are luckier than anyone else. I don't know of a school that can boast of a roster that includes people like Ralph Bunche and Buck Compton and Arthur Ashe and John Wooden. These were extraordinary men and they accomplished amazing things in their lives.
But I don't think any of them faced the degree of challenges that Jackie Robinson did but still had the overall effect that Robinson did. In post-war America, the country was exhausted and baseball truly was the national pastime, decades before it got lost underneath player strikes and multi-million dollar contracts and PED's and ESPN. Baseball was America's darling, and creating a gigantic rift in the sacred fabric of that institution was an unimaginably difficult task. 42 gives you a true appreciation of the enormous barriers Robinson faced when he went from the Negro Leagues to the Majors. Beyond the baseline discrimination of the day, Jackie experienced daily vulgarity and violence from opposing teams, from baseball fans and other parts of society at large, and even from some of his own teammates. Surviving that scenario, let alone becoming one of the most influential men in our nation's history, is a testament to his strength and character, and I think 42 captured that sentiment well.
On a brief tangent, it was also interesting to consider this movie in the context of recent reports that up to 4 NFL players who are homosexual are on the verge of coming out publicly. While I don't think they will be vilified and ostracized the way Robinson was, they are currently "outsiders" and they will find many hurdles similar to what Jackie saw, both inside and outside of their own team. Interestingly, it is a another Bruin, Brendan Ayanbadejo, who is laying the groundwork for a future of openness and acceptance of gay players in the NFL. Sadly, his outspoken advocacy for marriage equality may be part of why he is no longer with the Ravens. As in Jackie's day, not every mind has fully opened.
In the end, here's what I think. I recommend all Bruins go see 42. Even more, I recommend you wear something that says U.C.L.A. when you go (someone may need to lend taz something). I say this not with the intent of being smug. I say this with the intent that we are humble and grateful and appreciate just how blessed we are to be part of the Bruin family. Jackie Robinson wore blue and gold, but he is far bigger than U.C.L.A., and his legacy does not entitle us to anything more than some school pride. Far more importantly, Jackie's legacy challenges us to live up to the standards of the greatest Bruin of them all.
Bruins honoring the legacy of Jackie Robinson with the No. 42 painted on the baselines all weekend. twitter.com/UCLABaseball/s…— UCLA Baseball (@UCLABaseball) April 12, 2013