A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives. —Jackie Robinson
Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson annually on April 15, the anniversary of his MLB debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Shared on social media today are many “letters to Jackie” from players around the game that recognize the impact Robinson has had on their lives and careers. Marlins’ second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. was one of the players who penned a note, pictured below:
Along with recognizing the personal impact of Robinson and his courage, more than 100 MLB players are donating their salaries on April 15 to The Players Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed by Black Major League Baseball Players who are “focused on building equitable systems in order to change the trajectory of diversity throughout baseball.”
Curtis Granderson, a former Marlin, is the President of The Players Alliance. He noted earlier this week that in addition to honoring Robinson’s legacy, April 15 is a reminder that there is still much work to be done in our game.
Part of their efforts on Jackie Robinson Day this season is support for the Jackie Robinson Foundation, an organization with a scholars program that “addresses the financial needs of college students and provides extensive, hands-on mentoring and support services.” The work that The Players Alliance has accomplished so far is incredible and deserves the game’s recognition and support.
As Christina De Nicola wrote for MLB.com earlier this month, the Miami Marlins are making a conscious effort to prioritize diversity and inclusion all throughout the organization. De Nicola’s article focused mainly on the women in the Marlins organization, but notes that the organization has also prioritized diversity and inclusion on many levels. Raquel “Rocky” Egusquiza was named the club’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. The team is being proactive with their efforts to hire and work with people who reflect the diversity found in South Florida. De Nicola explains why this is important:
“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” —Jackie Robinson
As baseball celebrates Robinson this season, it is on the backdrop of far too many cruel and senseless acts of violence against people of color in our country. These are the ones that have been caught on video and are widely shared on television and social media. For every act of violence that is captured, there are handfuls of others that are not.
As a white person in this country, I know that the color of my skin affords me privileges that people of color do not have. The league and teams within baseball largely look like me, too. I won’t pretend to understand the struggles of my Black and Brown peers, but I can’t remain a spectator. Major League Baseball shouldn’t either. By focusing on one part of Jackie Robinson, his number 42, we’re doing the opposite of what he says above: If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.
MLB seems to cling to the comfortable version of Jackie Robinson—the vision of Pee Wee Reese embracing his teammate and saying, “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42, so nobody could tell us apart.” While sentimental, the gesture of donning 42 on jerseys seems empty when you consider that less than 8% of players wearing the 42 jersey are Black. As Bill Shaikin noted on Twitter, the percentage of Black players on MLB rosters was 18% in 1991, 13% in 2001, and has dwindled to single digits this year, per the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
The Athletic’s Kavitha A. Davidson wrote today about MLB’s annual celebration of Jackie Robinson in her article, It’s time for MLB to tell the truth about Jackie. If you aren’t able to read the full article, take some time to read and reflect on the few lines below:
It feels increasingly like the day is used to celebrate MLB, and by extension America, for correcting a barrier that never should have been there in the first place. MLB certainly deserves credit for its recent efforts in diversity, and particularly for its decision to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta in the wake of Georgia’s new voting law. But it’s important that the day doesn’t obscure the real challenges the sport and the country still face when it comes to race.
Racism in baseball and the country didn’t end when Robinson took the field, much like America didn’t enter a post-racial society after the election of President Barack Obama. Furthermore, Robinson’s legacy has been largely sanitized to suit a narrative of a benevolent owner and a player who “kept his head down” amid the racial abuse he continued to suffer. As we saw when Henry Aaron died in January, the activism and righteous anger of legendary Black players tends to be cleansed from the historical record to create a narrative that’s more easily digestible for fans and doesn’t bring up uncomfortable realities.