We saw a great movie recently titled “42.” For those of you who don’t know, 42 is a movie about Jackie Robinson and his entry into major league baseball as the first African-American player (42 was his uniform number.) As the first black player, Robinson and his family faced terrible hostility, from name calling to death threats.
The main characters in the story are of course, Jackie Robinson, and the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers-Branch Rickey. Rickey knew that if he was going to be the first owner to integrate a major league team, he must choose someone who not only was talented, but was also a man of high character and patience. The movie is inspiring in many ways, but recently I learned that a significant part of the story was left out.
As an article in the April 12 edition of USA TODAY newspaper explains, Branch Rickey knew that the man he picked as the first African American to play on his team would be viciously attacked and abused verbally and physically. He needed to find some who, as he explained, “had enough guts NOT to fight back.” But where did Rickey get that crazy idea and why did Robinson agree? The film doesn’t tell us, but the answers to these questions lie in the devout Christian faith of both men.
Rickey was a devout Methodist, and knew he must find someone who believed turning the other cheek amidst hostility was not just the practical thing to do (if the person he chose retaliated, it would ruin any chance for this experiment to work) but also the right thing to do. During their first meeting, Rickey pulled out a book by Giovanni Papini, titled Life of Christ. He opened to the passage about the Sermon on the Mount and read it aloud to Robinson to underscore what it meant to be a follower of Christ.
It was a brutally difficult undertaking for Robinson and his family; he got down on his knees many nights asking God for the strength to continue resisting the temptation to fight back, or to say something he would regret. Jackie Robinson, amidst terrible daily persecution understood where his strength would need to come from if he were to survive this ordeal while making history.
Branch Rickey and especially Jackie Robinson are justifiably described as heroes for righting a wrong and fighting for justice. Both credit their faith for sustaining them through this very turbulent time. We would do well to follow their examples as we experience difficulties during our own journeys.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)