“42,” Jackie Robinson: Sports, Journalism and USA History
Yesterday I took a break in the workday to go to the movie theatre and watch the film “42,” the Jackie Robinson biopic. The film is performing very well in the box office. That is a good. I recommend it.
I watched “42” in a suburban New York City theatre, where mostly elderly people were in the audience at that time. I did see a man -who I guess is a father (guardian)- with three young boys, who looked to be between 10 to 13-years old. With the exception of me, it was an all-white audience, and a pretty decent size audience for that time of the day, during the workweek. I was glad to see this demographic profile in the audience. I happen to think the history of race and racism in the United States, and beyond, is history for all to take-in and learn from.
Athletes and sportsmen: take note.
I wish athletes grasped how much young children look up to them; how they play their sport, talk, walk and conduct the business of life. I know it is a heavy and unfair burden to be a ‘role model,’ when it is not what an athlete signs up for. But it is not by choice that athletes are cast with that burden; it comes with the great responsibility of being a sportsman. Little boys especially look up to athletes. In the film, there are two young boys –one Black, one White- who illustrate the awesome influence athletes have over young minds.
For the greater good and need, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson endured public hits that were horrid. He caught hell. He was ridiculed and lambasted in ways we – ALL in society – owe a great deal of gratitude. The sports world and those who came after Jackie especially owe much to his contribution. He could have easily said, “I don’t want to be the first,” or even be a part of the first wave of Black men to enter Major League Baseball.
Journalists: take note.
Wendell Smith was a journalist for The Pittsburgh Courier, a widely read and circulated black newspaper, during a critical time in U.S. history. Smith covered/shadowed Jackie Robinson, and, he too, was subject to the humiliations of racism and segregation. Journalists –particularly sports writers- should remember that Black journalists were not allowed to sit in the press box. In the film, Smith says to Jackie, “You know why I sit in the stands, behind third base, with a typewriter on my lap? Because I (a Black man) am not allowed in the press box.”
From the Los Angeles Times:
The humble, bespectacled journalist was Robinson’s chronicler, his confidant, and sometimes even his conscience. As sports editor and columnist for the African American-owned Pittsburgh Courier, Smith accompanied Robinson throughout his first major league season, creating his image, reporting his words and crusading for his rights.
As Robinson grew more popular, Smith became more invisible, until he eventually became Robinson’s ghost writer in the literal sense, the memory of him turning ethereal and nearly vanishing altogether.
“Everywhere we went, Wendell Smith was there,” said Don Newcombe, former Dodgers pitcher, who was Robinson’s longtime teammate, friend and fellow pioneer. “He was instrumental in so many things that happened, he should not be forgotten.”
“42” is a must-watch film for the young, old and in between.
Finally, I am not a film critic. I share this recommendation knowing that the film is criticized for being predictable and sappy. That may be so. Still, it I think “42″ is a necessary story, and it has a place in the greater context of history telling.