The first figure I wanted to highlight from Eric Metaxas book Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness is a great baseball player. Ask any baseball fan who is the greatest player of all time and you are likely to get a variety of opinions. Names like Ruth, Mantle, Mays, Aaron, and Williams would come out from several different people. While there were great players with integrity and some with a mixed nature, one man stands out as a phenomenal player and a deep man of character. This man is none other than the great 42, Jackie Robinson.
Jackie was born in 1919 in Georgia to a large family. When his father left the family, his mother Mallie moved her five kids to Pasadena, CA where she sought to bring her children up to value “family, education, optimism, self-discipline, and above all God.” His childhood was rough, he worked to help support his single mom and siblings, and Jackie encountered racism in his neighborhood early on. However, his mother taught him a lesson that would help him years down the road. When Jackie retaliated against a white man’s racial slur by tarring his lawn, Mallie forced Jacked to repair the damages. Mallie believed that Christians are called to bless those who persecute you, and undoubtedly that would have been tough amid racial injustice.
Jackie was a gifted athlete and he was phenomenal in nearly every sport he played. Though he was remarkably talented, his skin color prohibited him from joining white teams. As could be imagined, racial injustice would bring Jackie’s fierce temper to the surface. His explosive anger landed him in jail and in conflicts throughout his early life. He was not a trouble maker though, he simply wouldn’t take the garbage people threw at him.
A life changing moment occurred when Jackie met a Methodist preacher named Karl Downs. Karl taught Jackie that explosive anger should not be a Christian’s answer to injustice. Instead, the answer was to demonstrate heroic type of love modelled after the life of Jesus. This conversation marked a big turning point, because injustice would be confronted on the playing field.
After a great career at UCLA and in the military, Jackie would see the racism he frequently encountered through the lens of his deep religious faith. This belief would help get through the tumult and prepare him for the worst when he entered professional baseball.
This is where the executive for the Brooklyn Dodgers Branch Rickey comes into the picture. Rickey wanted to change the face of the MLB by integrating his team for his devout faith told him that injustice was meant to be fought, even in sports. His position on the team would provide him the chance to fight racism by recruiting an athlete to break the color barrier
While the story is too long to cover here in one post, Rickey found Jackie in the Negro Leagues and offered him the chance as a partner to change the moral fabric of America. Their common, robust faith rooted both men in this monumental undertaking.
As a result, Jackie was threatened, harassed, abused, and mocked at every turn, yet he turned the other cheek and quietly let his superior athletic ability do the talking. Both Rickey and Jackie knew that if God was calling them to this task, then God would strengthen Jackie in the endurance through this incredible opportunity.
In Jackie’s play, he demonstrated to the crowds that black men could indeed compete and excel alongside whites. Not only was he one of the greats, but his conduct under hostile racial persecution won people to his side. Jackie and Ricky demonstrated that devout Christian faith is not just reserved for the pews, but is lived out in real life. Robust faith confronts injustice and leads to reconciliation and peace.