Robinson women preserving Jackie's legacy
There is a powerful scene in "42," the newly released biopic about Jackie Robinson, in which Philadelphia manager Ben Chapman stands outside the Phillies' home dugout and delivers a disturbing rant of racial insults at the baseball legend in his rookie season. This scene is unrelenting, and seemingly unending, which is why it is so effective. It delivers to audiences a stirring re-creation of the sort of abuse Robinson endured so often when he broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.
"I've spent a lot of time in schools, and kids always want to know, 'What did he go through?'" said Jackie's daughter, Sharon Robinson. "That scene is what it was like and just hits it right out in front. The racism and the reaction in Philadelphia -- that was just one example of what he had to endure, but it is a great example. And I thought it was so powerful, with Jackie's reaction, and how they handle it with Branch Rickey. I just thought it was amazing. It just brings it home."
Jackie endured hell during those early seasons. And his widow, Rachel Robinson, endured it as well.
"It's tougher on the wives because the player comes home and has to vent about what happened," Arizona Diamondbacks hitting coach and former manager Don Baylor said. "So if you don't have that encouraging wife behind you, it's tough to be successful. And Rachel's done it forever. Sharon, her daughter, is the same.
"When you're talking about Jackie Robinson, you can't think of a better person to carry the torch for Jackie."
Rachel, 90, has been carrying that torch since her husband died at age 53 in 1972. The next year, she founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that continues to preserve his legacy through scholarships and educational programs. In doing so, she and Sharon are continuing a directive that Sharon recalls her father laid out when she was 13 and Jackie was getting involved in the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"He said while he wanted us to have careers, it was also important that we have a family mission," Sharon said. "That started at a young age, and it was ingrained into who I am. In addition to my private life and career, I'm also involved in something mission-driven. And part of that is getting the message out about his legacy.
"I think the movie will have a major impact and will reach millions of kids and adults who don't know the story intimately or well. There are millions of people who know he broke the color barrier, but they don't really understand the story."
A successful author and consultant for Major League Baseball, Sharon Robinson has helped get the story and message out by writing several books about her father. She said Jackie rarely talked about his experiences -- "My mother and he had decided very consciously not to bring that home" -- and it was through Rachel, as well as other people in baseball, that she learned about what her parents experienced in opening up the game to minorities.
"I talked to my mother a great deal," Sharon said. "For example, I was trying to explain to kids how much support my father had versus how much opposition. I asked my mother, 'If you had two baskets, one for letters of support and other for hate letters, which one would be more full?' She said the support basket."
Sharon said her father would "debrief" his mother on what happened after the day's game. "My dad would talk to her about it. He wasn't a big complainer. I think talking to my mother probably helped him to work it through."
In addition to the tough Philadelphia scene, Sharon said she also loves a more tender moment in the movie when Rachel provides Jackie with some batting tips because it shows how her mother was invested on the field as well as off.
Even 66 years later, at age 90, Rachel still is heavily invested. Though she declined an interview due to feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the requests, people in the game who know her say her drive and enthusiasm are still amazing. Baylor said he has to almost run just to keep up with her, while Sharon said she refuses to give up her car keys.
"She's very inspiring and she's all about changing the world," Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp said. "There aren't enough words in the world to describe how important she is and how special a person she is."