MLB Jackie Robinson Day: Is Robinson's Legacy Deserving of a National Holiday?

Lake CruiseAnalyst IApril 16, 2011

April 15, 2011: Don Newcobme, left, and Matt Kemp celebrate J.R.D. in L.A.  All the MLB teams joined in.
April 15, 2011: Don Newcobme, left, and Matt Kemp celebrate J.R.D. in L.A. All the MLB teams joined in.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Was what Jackie Robinson endured and accomplished as significant as what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did?  If so, then why doesn’t Jackie have a national holiday like Dr. King has in his honor?

Perhaps no holiday because the world hasn’t seen any vivid images of Jackie being sprayed down with water hoses or being hauled off to jail.  I’ll deal with the first question later here.

Looking back over the 64 years since former St. Louis Cardinals honcho Branch Rickey gave Jackie the opportunity to play in the majors, it’s a difficult question to address.

Robinson endured racial slurs from fans close to the field and also from opposing players.  Some of his own teammates refused him at first, and he couldn’t stay with the rest of the team when they went on the road.

I believe Jackie Robinson does deserve a national holiday.  Until he gets it, then we’ll have to settle for Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day.

In the Majors, today is the eighth installment of the annual J.R. Day.  Seeking respect more than acceptance—in his own words—Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.  He is recognized for having broken baseball’s so-called color barrier.

MLB is commemorating this anniversary by rolling out the new campaign.  There will also be ceremonies, events, celebrations and personal testimonies in every big league park.  All players and on-field personnel will wear Jackie’s jersey number 42.

He wore it from 1947-56—the foundation years of the American Civil Rights Movement.   MLB is smart to capitalize on Robinson’s legacy by recognizing what it means to them.    

"Each year, Jackie Robinson Day is an occasion for us to pause and reflect on the game's proudest and most powerful moment," Commissioner Bud Selig told  "Jackie's legacy is as strong and vibrant as ever throughout Major League Baseball.”

Selig went on to call Robinson “our game’s greatest pioneer.”  Maybe that’s why there is little national holiday discussion.  Jackie played a game, and sports are sometimes viewed as being less impacting on society than the civil rights battles. Just my thought.

In the same report, Robinson’s wife, Rachel, weighed in with her thoughts:  "Jack loved the game of baseball and the tremendous power it had and still has to bring people together," she said.  She’s the founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

"I believe he would have found Major League Baseball's decision to perpetually honor his legacy in this way both gratifying and humbling," Mrs. Robinson added.

Supported by, at fans and other interested parties can get educated about the humble Robinson and also some of MLB’s programs—including Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and the Urban Youth Academies.

"Jackie Robinson Day to me means he was a great person, one, but for the game of baseball and for the civil rights movement, of course," said Jason Heyward, the Atlanta Braves' second-year outfielder.

"And for the people all across the world to show that we can put differences aside and play a game of baseball, and all be entertainment no matter what the ethnicity."  Amen.

A famous man, entertainer Sean Combs, who was honored at the recent Jackie Robinson Awards Dinner, had this to say in the report:

"What Jackie Robinson has done for our culture is more powerful than just changing the face of sports and breaking down the color barrier. He changed all our lives."

In 1997, Robinson’s number was retired in the Majors and the year 2004 brought about the inaugural J.R. Day.  Mariano Rivera, 41, the closer for the New York Yankees, currently wears number 42.  He’s the last MLB player to do so.  After him, there’ll be no more.

"The number alone is a tremendous responsibility," Rivera told "Being the last player to wear No. 42 is a blessing, a privilege and an honor.  I always try to do my best."

One No. 42 jersey from every team will be signed and auctioned off on, with the proceeds benefiting the Jackie Robinson Foundation.  Jackie’s daughter, Sharon, is an officer in the J.R.F. and also an educational programming consultant for MLB.

She’ll announce the winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers Essay Contest.  The competition recognizes students who try to overcome personal obstacles in their lives by using Jackie’s core guiding principles and values systems.  

The Foundation was created in 1973 and since then has provided scholarships and mentoring programs for minority students.  MLB sponsors over 60 Jackie Robinson Scholars.  The J.R.F. instills his guiding life tenet:  “A life is not important except in its impact on other lives.”

“The noble experiment”—as Jackie Robinson refers to it—turned out to be as entrenched in American history as even the Civil War. 

Some of the famous Tuskegee Airmen will appear along with the Robinson family at Yankee Stadium before the Yankees-Rangers game on Friday.  The Airmen in 1947—African-American pilots during WWII—were fresh off outstanding performances.

Like Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois helped pave the way for them, they obviously paved the way for Jackie. 

Soon after his historic debut on April 15, 1947, President Eisenhower signed legislation to fully integrate the military and the Civil Rights Movement went into full swing in the 1950s led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King’s writings from prison are classic.

"Letters From Jackie: The Private Thoughts of Jackie Robinson" will be broadcast on MLB Network at noon on Saturday, April 30.  Produced by MLB Productions, the show is focused on Robinson's role in the American Civil Rights Movement—classic.

Producers of the program focused on Robinson’s own writings.  As the show will point out, people from American presidents to common pen pals received Jackie’s inspirational messages via cards and letters.

Major League Baseball deserves to be commended for honoring the blessed legacy of Jackie Robinson—a man who proceeded the American Civil Rights Movement.  His life and times sends a message and shows today’s athletes what their pioneers knew:

Playing a sport is bigger than the playing field and can change the course of human history and so-called “race” relations throughout the world.  Jesse Owens accomplished this feat at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. 

What Jackie Robinson did with the Dodgers is of equal importance to American society—if not the world.  Baseball is played virtually all over the world now.  Once Africa, Jamaica and the Solomon Islands get on board, then Robinson’s reach will be more global.

Adolph Hitler was the “race” monster Owens conquered, and MLB was Robinson’s conquest.  While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is being fulfilled as I write, our understanding of Jackie Robinson’s legacy is seemingly just getting started. 

Regarding Jackie’s impact on society, the best is to come—next year will be the 65th anniversary of his breaking the color line in baseball.

While baseball has fallen from grace in American sporting society, it’s still relevant.  Once a baseball game was where fathers felt obligated to take their children.  It’s not that serious now, but it’s still a place of family enjoyment.

Baseball isn’t ingrained in American culture like it once was—no one would deny that.  But Robinson’s impact goes beyond baseball to the very streets of the formerly segregated Deep South.

Jackie Robinson deserves a national holiday.