Jackie Robinson: MLB's First Black Player Honored on 70th Anniversary

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s (MLB) color barrier when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Seventy years later, the franchise, now the Los Angeles Dodgers, unveiled a statue on Saturday honoring the trailblazer.

Before the Dodgers’ game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a ceremony took place to unveil an 800-pound, eight-foot statue depicting Robinson sliding into home plate. The statue is in left field reserve plaza at the Chavez Ravine ballpark.

The annual Jackie Robinson Day was also celebrated with every player, coach, manager and umpire wearing Robinson’s No. 42 jersey, which was retired by MLB in 1997.

Robinson’s wife Rachel and children David and Sharon;Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Lakers legend and Dodgers owner; DodgersPresident andCEO Stan Kasten; and Hall of Famer and MLB’s first Black manager Frank Robinson were present, according to MLB.

A host of Dodgers legends such as Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe, Jaime Jarrin and Vin Scully were on hand to honor Robinson as well.

An advocate for equality both on and off the field, Robinson was a staunch supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. He was present with his family to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s renowned “I Have A Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C.

Robinson’s legacy of fighting for equal rights is continued through his children. At Saturday’s ceremony, Sharon Robinson said that inclusion efforts in baseball are still necessary.

“If it’s not important to us, it’s just not going to happen,” she said. “More Black kids are not going to be given the same opportunity. It has to be that we really believe in being a diverse society and want to be inclusive, and that’s just not the direction that we’re going in currently. So I think baseball is symbolic of America. We have a lot of work to do.”

Seventy years ago, Robinson began paving a painful yet triumphant road to inclusion. For example, when playing his first game against the Philadelphia Phillies, the team’s players and manager Ben Chapman called him racial slurs. He was also refused service at a local hotel.

In April 2016, the city of Philadelphiaofficially apologizedfor the racism he endured. The city council passed a resolution naming April 15 a day to honor Robinson’s achievements. The apology was presented to Robinson’s wife.

Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has been pressuring Silicon Valley tech companies to increase the diversity of their employees, often makes references to Robinson when explaining why diversity is important.

“Whenever the playing field is even, and the rules are public, and the goals are clear, the referees are fair, we always do well. Imagine baseball without Jackie Robinson,”Jackson saidat the 2015 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity event.

Current African American athletes also aspire to emulate Robinson’s activism. In July, high-profile professional basketball players Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James decided to use the ESPY awards ceremony in Los Angeles as a platform for social justice.

Paul said during a speech that opened the awards ceremony that the athletes choose to follow in the footsteps of Robinson and other legends, such as Jesse Owens.

At the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s (JRF) annual awards dinner in March, where Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson (No. 8 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) was honored with a ROBIE Award, it was announced that The Jackie Robinson Museum will soon begin construction. The museum will further recognize Robinson’s contributions to society.

In the following video,Sharon Robinson talks about the new statue:

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