Jackie Robinson did a brave thing when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
But today is Jackie Robinson Day, a day that should remind us of how chillingly accurate the metaphor is. Today, every player in Major League Baseball dons Robinson's 42 in commemoration of his struggle to break the colour barrier.
I appreciate this day for honouring Robinson; and yet my appreciation is always tempered by skepticism at the self-congralatory tone that the day will often take. I don't think this should be a day of celebration. It should not be a day on which baseball pats itself on the back for allowing African-American ballplayers to participate in the Major Leagues. It should be a day on which baseball fans, and baseball itself, reflects on the fact that it took until 1947 for baseball to admit an African American to the clubhouse. It took twelve years until my own beloved Red Sox followed suit, a fact that should inspire shame in every fan.
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It should be a day on which we think about the apparently self-evident link between baseball and democracy what that really means. It's an apt metaphor not because of the way it gestures toward rugged individuals who are nevertheless team players. It's an apt metaphor because baseball, like American democracy, has skeletons in it's closet, even to this day. It's an apt metaphor because Ty Cobb's teammates struck in support of a man who beat a disabled man for insinuating he was of mixed-race parentage. It's an apt metaphor because even though the game offered poor, working class Americans a glimmer of hope of a better life, for a long time it meant working for owners who treated players like property. It's an apt metaphor because today, Albert Pujols will make an average of 25.4 million dollars a year while countless people, many of whom will pay to watch him play, are struggling to make ends meet.
Jackie Robinson did a brave thing when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He faced catcalls and worse from baseball fans. Some of his teammates threatened to sit out rather than play alongside him. He was spiked by players on other teams. Some democracy. But that's precisely why Jackie Robinson Day is important. Rather than a day of celebration, it is a day of reflection on an ugly history that masquerades as being inclusive and egalitarian. It's a day to consider how far democracy still has to go. It's a day to think about who is still being barred from the clubhouse, and how we treat those who have been admitted only with reservations.
Posted in Entertainment Post Date 03/05/2018