Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey first met Jackie Robinson on Aug. 28, 1945. Rickey told Robinson that he wanted to sign the 26-year-old ballplayer and break the national pastime’s color barrier. But for him to succeed, Rickey said, Robinson couldn’t respond to the indignities that would be piled on him: “I’m looking for a ballplayer
with guts enough not to fight back.”
Rickey then opened a book published in the 1920s, Giovanni Papini’s “Life of Christ,” and read Jesus’ words: “But whoever shall smite thee on the cheek, turn to him the other also.” Robinson knew the Gospel and knew what was required of him. He replied, “I have two cheeks, Mr. Rickey. Is that it?” This meeting between the two Methodists, Rickey and Robinson, ultimately transformed baseball and America itself. …
What is often overlooked in accounts of Robinson’s life is that it is also a religious story. His faith in God, as he often attested, carried him through the torment and abuse of integrating the major leagues.
Robinson grew up in Pasadena, Calif., where his mother, Mallie, instilled in her five children the belief that God would take care of them. “I never stopped believing that,” Robinson later said. They originated in Georgia, but their father left town never to return. Jackie’s mother saved money to move her, all 5 kids, and other family members to Calif. The journey, in a Jim Crow train, took nine long days!
One day, in California, Jackie met a preacher named Karl Downs. He had a tremendous ability to inspire young people. He knew that Jackie was a Christian, and taught him that exploding in anger was not the Christian answer to injustice. He explained that a life truly dedicated to Christ was not submissive; on the contrary, it was heroic
Robinson, who had been a stand-out athlete at UCLA, signed up in the spring of 1945 to play baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. Robinson openly scorned his whiskey-drinking and promiscuous teammates. He also stunned his teammates by declaring that he was waiting until he was married to have sex.
Nobody in sports had ever faced the sort of pressure, and abuse, that Jackie Robinson did when he took the field for the first time in a Brooklyn uniform on April 15, 1947. And yet Robinson didn’t merely endure, he thrived.
In a 1950 newspaper interview, he emphasized his faith in God and his nightly ritual of kneeling at bedside to pray. “It’s the best way to get closer to God,” Robinson said, and then the second baseman added with a smile, “and a hard-hit ground ball.”
“I can testify to the fact that it was a lot harder to turn the other cheek and refuse to fight back than it would have been to exercise a normal reaction,” Robinson wrote. “But it works, because sooner or later it brings a sense of shame to those who attack you. And that sense of shame is often the beginning of progress.”
He thought of his wife and his children, whom he knew, but he also thought of all the others who would benefit from his doing the right thing, and he suffered greatly to do what he did. Because of his courage and heroism, he is included with these great men.
Shared by Doug Ross
next week….Eric Liddell