Faith made Robin­son stronger and a bet­ter ball player

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - By Michael Taube

42 FAITH: THE REST OF THE JACKIE ROBIN­SON STORY By Ed Henry

Jackie Robin­son’s in­spi­ra­tional story has long been im­mor­tal­ized in books and movie adap­ta­tions. He broke ma­jor league base­ball’s color bar­rier on April 15, 1947. He played for the Brook­lyn (now Los An­ge­les) Dodgers from 1947-1956. He won many in­di­vid­ual awards, as well as the 1955 World Series, and is a mem­ber of the Hall of Fame.

Yet, it ap­pears there’s even more to the story about this re­mark­able sports hero.

Ed Henry’s book, “42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robin­son Story,” re­veals that re­li­gion played a sig­nif­i­cant role in keep­ing Mr. Robin­son grounded, fo­cused and de­ter­mined on the base­ball di­a­mond. Fox News Chan­nel’s chief na­tional cor­re­spon­dent used orig­i­nal ma­te­ri­als con­tained at the Li­brary of Congress, in­clud­ing pre­vi­ously un­known ser­mons, in­ter­views and an un­pub­lished (and re­veal­ing) man­u­script. Mr. Robin­son’s daugh­ter, Sharon, told him that “the fam­ily wanted me to use as much ma­te­rial as pos­si­ble ... be­cause her mother do­nated them to the li­brary so that the pub­lic can see his legacy.” They will, in a whole new light. Dur­ing the “ugly days of his time as a Dodger,” ac­cord­ing to Mr. Henry, he “leaned on the Bible and his per­sonal faith to get him through.” It was a trait that he shared with Branch Rickey, the team’s owner, who “had his own habit of slip­ping into churches wher­ever he trav­eled.” This shared in­ter­est in Chris­tian­ity served as the foun­da­tion for this im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship that changed the face of the game they both loved.

Mr. Rickey gave Mr. Robin­son “a lit­tle hint” when they first met that “there was a di­vine in­spi­ra­tion for his push to in­te­grate base­ball.” Mr. Robin­son’s un­pub­lished man­u­script al­ludes to Mr. Rickey “talk­ing to me about the promise he had to God and to him­self when he was teach­ing sports at col­lege.” Although this was a ref­er­ence to Charles “Tommy” Thomas, who “helped shape the ex­ec­u­tive’s feel­ings about racial in­jus­tice,” the sen­ti­ment car­ried over into his im­por­tant de­ci­sion to bring Mr. Robin­son to the big leagues.

It’s no se­cret that Mr. Robin­son faced var­i­ous road­blocks in the quest to de­seg­re­gate base­ball. Clay Hop­per, the man­ager of his mi­nor league team, the Mon­treal Roy­als, “openly de­clared that African Amer­i­cans were not hu­man be­ings” in 1946. He was called many vile things in pub­lic, from his Army days to his base­ball nights. There were also is­sues with other base­ball play­ers, who didn’t want to play with a black man, and even some team­mates.

Through it all, he re­fused to be in­tim­i­dated.

Again, it was re­li­gion that seemed to soothe his shat­tered nerves. “42 Faith” con­tains many thought-pro­vok­ing speeches, in­ter­views and writ­ings that prove Mr. Robin­son’s be­lief in God made him stronger — and a bet­ter ball player.

“I am not the most re­li­gious per­son in the world,” he noted in his un­pub­lished man­u­script, “I be­lieve in God, in the Bible and in try­ing to do the right thing as I un­der­stand it.” While he ex­pressed cer­tainty “there are many, many bet­ter Chris­tians than I,” few could match his abil­ity to turn the other cheek and turn a neg­a­tive into a pos­i­tive.

Mr. Robin­son also made some in­ter­est­ing com­par­isons be­tween sports and re­li­gion. In his un­pub­lished man­u­script, he wrote, “My con­cept of re­li­gion is of peo­ple hav­ing faith in God, in them­selves and in each other and putting that faith into ac­tion. If you can find a bet­ter ex­am­ple of those four things than a team of sports­men work­ing as a unit, I’d like to know what it is.”

Mean­while, there was a “prayer army” (to use Mr. Henry’s phrase) stand­ing with Mr. Robin­son. His per­sonal pa­pers in­clude let­ters from min­is­ters, rev­erends, church­go­ers and oth­ers that con­tain Bi­b­li­cal phrases as well as enor­mous pride in his ac­com­plish­ments.

This strong at­tach­ment to re­li­gion con­tin­ued well past his re­tire­ment.

He told the South­ern Chris­tian Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence in 1962, “...as the first Ne­gro in the ma­jors, I needed the sup­port and back­ing of my own peo­ple. I’ll never for­get what min­is­ters like you who lead [the] SCLC did for me.” As well, in a speech to a church in New Rochelle, N.Y., in 1967, Mr. Robin­son noted “I am not out to be any­body’s mar­tyr or hero” — a com­mon theme in his pub­lic life — but ar­gued that “[i]f the church of the liv­ing God can­not save Amer­ica in this hour of cri­sis, what can save us?”

Mr. Henry’s in­trigu­ing book has added an im­por­tant new chap­ter in Jackie Robin­son’s life and ca­reer. We now un­der­stand the faith that fam­ily, friends and fans put in his God-given abil­i­ties pro­vided ad­di­tional strength to his own com­mit­ment to faith. Michael Taube is a con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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