This past week the country, and Major League Baseball in particular, celebrated ‘Jackie Robinson day’. And in the spirit of the occasion I would like to offer up my perspective on just what it means to me to celebrate and enjoy this event. The Majors celebrated it with a huge league wide celebration, all the players across the league wore the number 42, and a new movie starring Harrison Ford just premiered.
While this day is important, and while I acknowledge and even appreciate what Jackie did and his legacy. I sometimes wonder, just what is the point?
While this question may sound flippant it really isn’t because in the modern-day quest of acceptance of many people, many people are turning to their organizations and governments to ‘do the right thing’. To legislate certain activities that some consider to be unkosher, that some others have no problem with. That some are trying to force themselves on certain organization that may not accept all their extra curricular activities. And on, and on, and on, and on it goes.
In other words, we could stand to learn a lot from Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, and even from the Negro Leagues. How they comported themselves, how they reacted to the world around them, from their failures, and their triumphs.
The principle lesson that should be learned, the first point that needs to be made, is that all of these people, all of the individuals, all of the organizations, were private. Unless there was some Government involved in the process behind the scenes. And in fact in many cases the Government were making laws that helped to prohibit and make it more difficult for the Major Leagues or the Negro Leagues to conduct business.
In the end of the day the story of Jackie Robinson was a series of bold and dramatic choices. Major League teams at the time, for their reasons, did not have colored people playing. The Negro Leagues saw this situation and decided to start their own business to appeal to a customer base hungry for the product they could provide, mainly black Baseball players. And then Branch Ricki, for his own reasons, decided to start a bold experiment and let Jackie Robinson play ball for the then Brooklyn Dodgers.
That was basically it. No one forced anyone to do anything. No one forced Branch Rickey to take on Jackie Robinson. No one forced the Negro Leagues to open their doors and provide a product their owners thought was lacking. No one forced Jackie to play baseball in the Major or Minor Leagues. And no one seemed to force MLB to go along with the scheme in the first place since, while his playing was contentious, he was still allowed to play.
The only force that was applied, it would seem, was from the racist ball players and fans who booed him, tried to bean him, or just prevent him from playing.
But other than that this was a private partnerships engaged by individuals and groups of individuals.
Now on the flip side of the equation the Negro Leagues did allow white baseball players to serve around the same time Jackie Robinson did. (Source) And as that same source points out the Government in the South made it next to impossible for white players to take the same field with black athletes.
The only force in the situation was being applied, by Government, to prevent businesses from practicing.
So what is the lesson here?
That if you do not like what some organization does the best solution might not be to force them to do something against their beliefs, for you could be in the same position when the Government forces you to do something against yours, but maybe to form your own organization. Maybe to start meeting in private home groups of neighborhood and city blocks and go camping and practice good manners and good leadership out in the woods and the trails of the US. Or to form your own religious organization where you can do whatever the heck you want when it comes to joining two people. Or your own Hotel chain where…well I think you get the idea.
And as for those other organizations? Well maybe you can wait them out. Be forceful, be polite, state your opinion, engage on the battlefield of ideas but if they do disagree, then let them.
And if they do disagree instead of thinking they have taken away some fundamental human right go out there and seize it on your own. Go out and love, go out there and associate, go out there and form your own businesses and organizations. They did it, why can’t you?