Character – The Legacy That Lasts

42 The Jackie Robinson Story

 

A while ago, I watched the movie, 42: The Jackie Robinson Story  – it’s a great movie about baseball, but like most movies about sports, it’s not just about baseball. There is one scene in particular that teaches the principle that I want to discuss today, but a little background, first. Jackie Robinson was the first black player to play on a major league baseball team at a time when there were many, many social injustices and much prejudice and hatred.

In the scene that’s our focus, the Dodgers were playing the Phillies on April 22, 1947. During that game, the manager of the Phillies, Ben Chapman was being so vehement, cruel and vile in his insults toward Robinson who finally almost loses it, but instead of railing back against Chapman, Robinson goes down under the stadium and takes his frustrations out on the wall with a bat. Then the owner of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey (the man that hired Robinson, and a devout Christian) comes to talk to him and this is their conversation (the first line, I paraphrased a little, but that’s the jist of it.) –

Robinson: Next white person to say something, I’m going to smash his teeth in.

Rickey: You can’t do that, Jack.

Robinson: I’m supposed to just let this go on?

Rickey: These men have to live with themselves.

Robinson: I have to live with myself, too. Right now, I’m living a sermon out there.

Rickey: You don’t matter now, Jack. You’re in this thing. You don’t have the right to pull out from the backing of people that believe in you, that respect you, that need you.

Robinson: Is that so?

Rickey: If you fight, they won’t say that Chapman forced you to. They’ll say that you’re in over your head. That you don’t belong here.

Robinson: Do you know what it’s like having somebody do this to you?

Rickey: No. No. You’re the one — living the sermon. In the wilderness. Forty days. All of it. Only you.

Robinson: There’s not a … thing I can do about it.

Rickey: Of course there is! You can get out there and hit! You can get on base and score. You can win the game for us. We need you. Everybody needs you! You’re medicine, Jack!

 

Earlier in the movie, when offering the contract to Robinson, Branch Rickey said that there was one condition for him to be able to play. Could he control his temper?  Rickey said:

“I want a player who’s got the guts NOT to fight back. People aren’t gonna like this. They’re gonna do anything to get you to react. Echo a curse with a curse and they’ll hear only yours. Follow blow with a blow and they’ll say, ‘the [black man] lost his temper.’ That ‘the [black man] does not belong.’ Your enemy will be out in force and you cannot meet him on his own low ground. We win with hitting, running, fielding. Only that. We win if the world is convinced of two things: that you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player. Like our Savior – you gotta have the guts – to turn the other cheek. Can you do it? “

Now, I realize that dialogue and elements of the film were dramatized (as they pointed out at the end of the movie). But what is the legacy that Jackie Robinson left? The number 42 is the only number that is retired in baseball, and every year, in April, all of the Major League players wear #42 on their uniforms as a reminder of Robinson’s accomplishments.

At the end of the day, what matters? What is the legacy that you leave? Your character.

Of course you could fight back, railing for railing, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, but who does that bless?

When we engage with others (ESPECIALLY when we don’t agree with them) there is a need for character “at all times, and in all things and in all places” (see Mosiah 18:9).

They have to live with themselves.

They have to face the great Judge of all Mankind, just as you do. There will be mercy and there will be justice.  But, as I’m trying to teach my children, the only one that you can ever really do anything about, truly, is you. You are the one living and teaching the sermon, and if you let the teachings of the Lord change you, change your heart, then your fruits will be of great worth. We cannot bear good fruit if we don’t do it in the Lord’s way. (see John 15: 1-8 and Matthew 7: 16-20).

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