ESPN Sportscenter covers sports that I care about – baseball, basketball, football. It covers sports that I don’t care about – golf, tennis, NASCAR. And It covers sports that no one cares about – Major League Soccer, Summer X-Games, WNBA.
One thing that ESPN is scared to cover is the topic of race in sports. And that’s a shame, because ignoring racism doesn’t make it disappear.
I suppose it’s understandable that the sports world wants to sweep the topic of racism under the rug. The great stain on the history of baseball – a thousand times worse than steroids – is that it used to be segregated.
I can’t think of anything more American than a young man wanting to play Major League baseball. And I can’t think of anything more un-American than trying to stop that man from living out his dream.
I am not saying that I don’t understand racism. But even if you have a problem with a certain group of people, I simply do not understand why you’d want to exclude them from playing professional sports.
I was hoping that “42” would help me to comprehend what motivated America to accept baseball apartheid for 75 years.
It didn’t. “42” is an entertaining feel-good movie. But it didn’t teach me a darn thing.
As everybody in the Western Hemisphere already knows, there once lived a great man named Jackie Robinson. And in 1947 he became the first black person to play for a major league team.
The film does a good job of showing how much pressure Robinson was under. He had to deal with intense media scrutiny and racist taunts from fans and opposing teams. He had to put up with pitchers who intentionally hit him with fastballs and he wasn’t allowed to stand up for himself or fight back.
Like a true Christian, Jackie Robinson turned the other cheek. He was such a good player and good person that it became indisputably clear that black people belong in Major League Baseball. Less than a lifetime later, no one even understands why there was segregation to begin with.
And that’s where “42” – and most movies about the Civil Rights Movement – fail. They only show the point of view of the good guys and ignore the point of view of the people who defended Jim Crow.
According to “42” and other Hollywood movies, every single segregationist was an ignoramus and a redneck and a bad person.
That’s like saying that every single person in Germany from 1941-1945 was a bad person and infinitely more evil than you or me. We may want to believe that, but it isn’t true.
By dismissing bigoted people of the past as inhuman monsters, we fail to take responsibility for our own flaws and prejudices. And we fail to give a hero like Jackie Robinson enough credit for behaving with such dignity and grace that he changed people’s hearts.
And that’s why the player who wore the number 42 was a truly great man. And “42” isn’t a truly great movie.