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UCLA Legends: Happy 100th Birthday, Jackie Robinson!

Today, Jackie Robinson would have celebrated his 100th birthday.

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Jackie Robinson encompasses everything it means to be a Bruin—a humanitarian, force of change, and pushing our nation to shed the narrow mindedness of the past and move into a future where anything is possible for every human being, no matter their background, beginnings, creed, or race.

The public probably got their first views of Jackie as a player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, donning the blue and white uniform as a symbol of the barriers he had broken down and the hardships he had to endure to get into major league baseball. However, his beginnings at UCLA were no less remarkable, playing not only baseball, but football, basketball, and running track as well. His collegiate career actually began at Pasadena City College which make his achievement as the first UCLA student-athlete to letter in four sports even more amazing. But there is even more that makes him a model human.

After college, Jackie planned to play semi-professional football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League when the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 derailed those plans and he was drafted into the Army in 1942, but in 1944, he would be court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of a non-segregated army bus when requested to do so by the driver. He would ultimately be acquitted of all charges and was honorably discharged from the military in November 1944. The treatment he received while serving his country would be unconscionable today, but was commonplace in the mid-40’s.

The racial injustices he was subject to in the Army did not end there. When he was eventually able to return to baseball after the Army, he began his time in the Negro Leagues but did not give up on playing Major League Baseball. After being humiliated at a tryout for the Boston Red Sox, the Brooklyn Dodgers and general manager Branch Rickey sought out Jackie as an addition to their roster, but made no bones about admitting the transition was going to be rough. He would be subject to racial slurs and abuse while the country was growing and moving into an era where racial lines were blurred and traditions of the past were no longer accepted.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson would break the color barrier of major league baseball at Ebbets Field and become the first black player since 1880. He opened doors for those that came after him in many sports and was a pioneer in the civil rights movement and a model human being. As other black players entered the league, it was symbolic of a larger societal change at work. Martin Luther King, Jr. would say, Jackie was “a legend and a symbol in his own time”, and that he “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”

Major League Baseball retired the #42, his uniform number with the Dodgers, across all major league teams. Subsequently, UCLA did the same, even though he never actually wore it while playing for the Bruins. Robinson wore #28 on the football team and #18 on the basketball team. No one seems to know what his baseball uniform number was at UCLA as no available image shows it.

Today, the #42 is on display at Pauley Pavilion, the Rose Bowl, Jackie Robinson Stadium, and on Bruin Walk, just across from the the Bruin Bear on campus. On his 100th birthday, Bruins everywhere can stand proud knowing such a pioneer in the civil rights movement found his beginnings in Westwood, and will live on through the legacy he has left behind.

Happy 100th Birthday, Jackie!