Right after I saw "42," I left the movie theater thinking, "Why don't I know more about this man other than that he played baseball?" I'd never heard a teacher say (s)he wanted to make him required reading. I didn't hear about him during Black History Month. I marched in the Jackie Robinson parade for several years as a Girl Scout from the age of 9 to 14, but I still didn't know a thing about this guy besides the obvious. My excuse used to be that sports are boring, but that certainly wouldn't work after I devoured Dwyane Wade's book and LeBron James' book so I was determined to complete Jackie Robinson's autobiography. And I did. But I had some very mixed emotions by the end of the read.
"42" shows how much his wife Rachel had his back and the backstory of Mr. Rickey. The movie captured some of the racist incidents he dealt with as well as those who defended him. The book elaborated on this but didn't go overboard. He'd talk about his love-hate relationship with the press without lambasting the media. He'd talk about racism in baseball with certain players and ideology, but the way it's written sounds like "just another day" as opposed to "can you believe this?!"
The book is written in a matter-of-fact tone that shows he overcame the vicious attitudes he encountered as a baseball player without him letting miserable people make him miserable, too. At the end of the first part of the book, he summed it up as: "The way I figured it, I was even with baseball and baseball with me. The game had done much for me, and I had done much for it." And even when he found out he was traded from the Dodgers to the Giants and decided to retire instead, his response was: "I had outsmarted baseball before baseball had outsmarted me."
And the second part of the book went into his "smarts" off the baseball field and right into politics in the Republican party; his son Jackie's drug use, sobriety, military experience and death; more details on how his other two children David and Sharon were raised; and his views on well-known leaders Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
His views on politics left me with confusion about some of his actions. There were other moments where even logic didn't seem to enter his mind on some of his views on culture and equality. To be frank, the stubborn attitude he had that helped make him a baseball icon seemed to make him irrational when it came to politics.
He was totally unenthused with the efforts of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. He said campaigning for Richard Nixon in 1960 wasn't one of his "finer" decisions. Jackie Robinson criticized JFK for not looking him in the eyes and being "so ignorant of [black people's] situation and be bidding for the highest office in the land." He made a good point about a presidential candidate who was well-versed in foreign affairs, farm problems and urban crises but not "the number-one domestic issue of our time." But then later on in the book, he admitted JFK immediately took note of the eye contact issue with another gentleman Frank Montero. And he continued to point out where the Kennedys got it right.
But even when the Kennedys were stepping up on civil rights, Jackie Robinson continued to support Nixon through some of the worst decisions. Examples included Nixon hesitating to publicly express concern after Dr. King's release from prison (he admitted that Bobby Kennedy "applied pressure, influence and political muscle" to get Dr. King out); Nixon refusing to campaign in Harlem; and an indifferent comment Nixon made after Henry Cabot Lodge talked about Nixon possibly naming a black man to his Cabinet. Jackie Robinson even admitted his family, specifically his wife, didn't understand why he continued to back Nixon. His response at the end of that chapter was, "I admit that the Kennedy ticket had begun to look much more attractive. But I have always felt that blacks must be represented in both parties. I was fighting a last-ditch battle to keep the Republicans from becoming completely white." To stay in a party simply so you can add some color isn't logical. Vote and support a politician's views, not his political party.
Even more confusion came when he released the back-and-forth letters between he and Malcolm X stating, "You mouth a big and bitter battle, Malcolm, but it is noticeable that your militancy is mainly expressed in Harlem where it is safe...I just happen to believe you are supporting and advocating policies which could not possibly interest the masses." The reason this statement made me scratch my head was because in an earlier chapter he talked about how he wanted Nixon to go to Harlem. He stated that Kennedy overwhelmingly got black votes for going to the same location. If you want to speak to black folks, wouldn't it make sense to go where they are? However, he did say he was "deeply impressed" with the Black Panthers after meeting them in their headquarters in Brooklyn. He stated he wasn't sold on all of their views though.
Add to that an open letter he wrote to Dr. King about his views on the Vietnam War. He complimented Dr. King on immediately calling him after the letter was published to explain his beliefs and stated, "I was terribly touched by the fact that Martin was not nearly as anxious to defend my attack publicly as he was to have me, as a friend, understand his philosophy and motivation." If you're that touched by him talking to you personally instead of publicly, shouldn't Jackie Robinson have done the same thing and waited for that private phone call to be returned? Jackie Robinson also stated that he could've never "made a good soldier in Martin's army. My reflexes aren't conditioned to accept nonviolence in the face of violence-provoking attacks." But the first half of the book of him in baseball was him constantly turning the other cheek.
He started off the "My Own Man" chapter by pointing out it took two years for the Brooklyn Dodger president to finally let him fight back. And none of his fighting back was particularly violent. He heckled an umpire in 1948 by booing him and protesting a bad decision. Is that not more Martin than Malcolm?
There were countless moments in the latter part of the book where too many statements didn't match each other. I still finished the read respecting his sports accomplishments, but I can't say the same for his political life. I have no opinion on his parenting views. Only someone who is the child of a celebrity should be able to make judgment on those types of situations his family endured. His wife was one very strong woman.
Overall I wasn't head over heels for the read, but I learned a helluva lot more than I knew about him before. And whether I agree with all of his views or not, his heart went into explaining some tough decisions he made from a child born in 1919 to a grown man.
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