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Jackie Robinson's Legacy Is More Than Wearing His Number Today

On Jackie Robinson day, I am asking that we push ourselves harder to celebrate him.

Another April 15th means another day that MLB celebrates the legacy of Jackie Robinson. It is a celebration that means a lot to most but not enough to others. As is the case with many social justice issues, particularly having to do with race, some feel it rings hollow. It is viewed as a sanitized celebration or remembrance of a man who suffered a lot of abuse to be the paragon of social change. 

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” - Jackie Robinson

Don't get me wrong. I love that we celebrate Robinson's legacy. What I am trying to say is that we should celebrate it fully by living by his example and trying to truly honor what he stood for. I enjoy seeing every player in MLB wear number 42 on this day. I do still get misty-eyed at Pee Wee Reese's quote that he said to Robinson, "maybe one day we'll all wear 42." I'm an idealist to a fault and I fully lean into being sentimental about Robinson and his transcending of what baseball was—a white man's sport.

“But as I write these words now I cannot stand and sing the National Anthem. I have learned that I remain a Black in a white world.” - Jackie Robinson

If we want to honor Robinson's legacy, we have to be pro-actively anti-racist. It doesn't just mean believing that all people are equal. That's great, but your belief won't quell the racism that still exists in any place around the world. If you hear someone make an off-handed racist quote, tell them it's wrong and ask them not to do it again. If someone of color is being visibly mistreated in front of you, act. Tell the person to stop and try to be a friend to the person who received the abuse. Being anti-racist is a call to action.

“The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.” - Jackie Robinson

It's also important to realize that we don't have to wonder how we would have personally reacted to Robinson had we been around in 1947. We must know that there are equivalents. Colin Kaepernick offered a peaceful protest by kneeling during the national anthem. Did you react with vitriol towards Kap's protest? I can't fathom disagreeing with Kaepernick's point, because racism is truly alive and well, but if your thought process was to judge him poorly for this action—you don't get to celebrate Robinson's journey and you don't get to celebrate or worse, appropriate Dr. Martin Luther King's journey and his words. If you don't stand for equality on all counts, you don't stand for equality.

If this is making you uncomfortable to read, I will know that I have done my job, at least a little. I could easily write something sanitized and saccharine celebrating Robinson, but that would betray what he stood for, what he fought for, and what he suffered for. Celebrate today, please. While you celebrate today and enjoy some baseball, though, remember that Robinson's legacy (and the other black players who came before and after him, because there were many) isn't just being comfortable with what has changed. It's to continue to push for more change. 

“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.” - Jacke Robinson