April 15th is always marked in Major League Baseball, and really, all sports — as Jackie Robinson Day.
A day where the sports world honors someone whose legacy is just barely scratched by looking at who he was as a player. His talent and skill is not the story here — but recognizing the impact he had not just in baseball, but his impact on people of color as a whole.
Growing up in Georgia, sports seemed to come easy for Robinson, who was the first athlete to make varsity in baseball, football, track, and basketball during his time at UCLA. However, his time at the university was short-lived due to financial struggles, which propelled him to enlist in the army.
However, he was called back to baseball and spent the 1945 season playing in the Negro Leagues — a league created in 1889, in the wake of Jim Crow laws and ongoing racism that barred African-Americans from playing with white players, and thus, segregated baseball.
Fast forward to what is the period in his life where the masses are most familiar with him — Robinson’s time with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson was recruited by the Dodgers in 1947, and his offer to play in Major League Baseball would be the first time an African-American played in the Majors again, nearly 60 years after the divide had been drawn.
Robinson had broken the color barrier created in Major League Baseball. From this point on, the Negro Leagues slowly deteriorated, as African-American players were now being scouted by Major League clubs, and MLB began to gain more of an African-American audience.
Robinson would go on to win Rookie of the Year, was the National League MVP in 1949, the same year he would also win the batting title with a .342 batting average. He also won a World Series Championship with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955 and led the team to the fall classic six times during his ten-year MLB career.
Of course, Robinson was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962 — his first year of eligibility.
His story does not stop there, as Robinson would continue to advocate for African-American rights beyond sports and address racial tension in society as a whole. He broke MLB’s color barrier, but in no way was that barrier just simply broken down. Racism would continue to be a common theme not just throughout baseball, but throughout Robinson’s life. It goes without saying that not everyone was on board for the first African-American major league player.
Robinson became a board member of the NAACP, and led civil rights campaigns in his home state of Georgia, with his friend, Martin Luther King Jr. Robinson helped pay to rebuild African-American churches that had been burned down in their fight for rights like voting, and to what seems like us now as normal parts of life.
He also founded a bank in 1964, called Freedom National Bank, which he founded in response to other banks and financial institutions that would deny loans and other financial services to African-Americans.
Again, these are all just accomplishments of Jackie Robinson that begin to scratch the surface of his legacy. But I would like to personally encourage anyone reading this to honor a civil rights activist, baseball player, and sports icon by researching more on the causes he advocated for, and the impact he continues to have to this day.
April 15th is the dedicated day to honor him because it was the opening day in the 1947 season, the day Robinson would make his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In the present day, more than 100 MLB players pledged their gameday salaries today to the Player’s Alliance’s Breaking Barriers campaign, where those funds will be put towards the Players Alliance x Jackie Robinson scholarship fund, set to debut to recipients this fall.
I leave you with one quote from Robinson that has endured the test of time, and encapsulates what he stood for in a nutshell: “There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.”