Major league baseball's all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera was the last player to wear number 42 after it was retired in 1997 in honor of the late Jackie Robinson, so it was fitting that he closed the 2014 Jackie Robinson Foundation Awards dinner on March 3rd at the Waldorf Astoria by receiving the organization's Humanitarian Award.
"Receiving this award is a privilege and an honor," Rivera said. "I know the legacy and the man that carried No. 42. I took it as a challenge to make Mr. Jackie Robinson proud." He added, "I believe The Lord placed Jackie Robinson where he would be successful. He opened the door for minorities to play the game he loved, and we love. Jackie Robinson passed the torch to Rachel Robinson. I pray The Lord keeps blessing her."
Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first African-America player. His widow, Rachel Robinson, established the foundation that bears her husband's name in 1973, one year after he passed away.
Rivera has become a close friend of the Robinson family, and Jackie and Rachel's daughter Sharon Robinson, who presented the award, praised him saying, "Mariano carried himself with dignity and grace. Being the last player to wear 42 was a true tribute to my dad."
The former New York Yankees relief pitcher was recognized for his work with his self-named foundation which for the past sixteen years has rebuilt churches in Latin America and the United States, sponsored computer houses for the underprivileged children in his native Panama, and provided clothing and medical supplies for his countrymen. In a recorded interview, Derek Jeter commended his former teammate for not only donating money to the needy, but more importantly, "giving his time to the less fortunate."
Rivera thanked his wife Clara who co-founded his non-profit organization, and he said, "Without her, I would not be here."
The future Hall Of Famer retired last year after 19 seasons with the Yankees. He was a 13-time All-Star and a five-time world Series champion. Rivera had great admiration for his fellow award recipients, Lifetime Achievement Award winner former Citigroup CEO Sanford I. Weill, and Wes Bush, Chairman CEO of Northrup Grumman Corporation who was presented the Award for Achievement in Industry. They were honored by their extraordinary commitment to creating and funding education programs for minorities. Rivera commented, "We need more men like them that care about youth and are providing opportunities."
Now in its 41st year, The Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) has awarded over 60 million dollars in scholarships to over 1400 students. This year the foundation is supporting 200 scholars in 96 different colleges and universities across the country. JRF has raised 16 million dollars of a needed 22 million dollars to build a Jackie Robinson Museum at its headquarters in lower Manhattan.
Bill Cosby hosted the foundation's 2014 ROBIE Awards dinner which featured entertainment by Grammy and Tony Award-winning singer Jennifer Holliday.