‘You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson challenged Brooklyn Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey.
“No, I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back,” said Rickey.
Jackie Robinson, whose uniform No. 42 was retired by Major League Baseball, died Oct. 24, 1972. The first African-American major-leaguer’s ability to turn the other cheek to abuse and bigotry when he broke into baseball after World War II paved the way for other black ballplayers.
Sixty-two years later, our first African-American president followed a similar path. Barack Obama, president No. 44, knew that while America made progress in tolerance over decades and might be ready for a black leader, it wasn’t going to tolerate an “angry black man” as president.
Both Obama and Robinson had to endure bigotry-driven versions of “You don’t belong here!” From Newt Gingrich suggesting Obama might have a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview to Sarah Palin mocking Obama’s “shuck and jive,” many Republicans used thinly veiled racism to attack him. Was the birther movement anything but bigotry? Obama’s birth in Hawaii was never in question until he ran for president, when a relentless demand for his “real” birth certificate sprang forward, led by Donald Trump.
Frustrated that Obama didn’t retaliate strongly enough, liberals were clueless as well. It wasn’t because Obama was weak. It was because he refused to be baited into an angry retort, thus increasing his chances of defeat in 2012.
Nearly 70 years after becoming the first African-American in Major League Baseball, Robinson is remembered as a class act on and off the field, a man who played the game with grace.
And today, as the clock winds down to the presidential election, it’s time to recognize the grace and dignity shown by Barack Obama, the Jackie Robinson of U.S. presidents. Whatever our political beliefs, we should appreciate the class he has shown throughout his tenure.
Mr. President, your taking the high road in the face of ignorance and bigotry will be remembered long after all of us are gone. Thank you.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.