Jackie Robinson: sport that makes its mark on history



I watched a great sports movie: “42, the true story of an American legend”, which was recently released online. It tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American athlete in the history of American professional baseball.

When we speak of racial segregation in the United States, we think of something distant in time. Yet it was only in the late 1950s that President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act which ensured that African-Americans could exercise the right to vote. It took another decade and the presidency of John F. Kennedy to eliminate one of the most odious manifestations of racial segregation: separate seating on public transport based on skin colour (remember the picture of Rosa Parks on the bus?).

Changes in society and culture often come through sport, thanks to the enormous symbolic value of athletes: for example, in addition to Robinson, there were the four gold medals won by Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics under Hitler, and the black fists raised by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City thirty two years later.

They also come through cinema. Films like “42”, and many others in the history of cinema, remind us of one important thing: the change that we found already “accomplished” was not easily achieved. The status quo is a security that is very difficult to abandon, and conquests that we now take for granted once seemed insurmountable.

It takes extraordinary men like Robinson to teach us that we can, indeed must, change every day: without violence, with the strength of our own actions, smiling even when our anger is provoked by abuse and adversity. Like Jackie, a sportsman first and then a business man, who sat down at the table of the American melting pot and looked to the future with great optimism.