UT Celebrates Jackie Robinson’s Legacy

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 wasn’t the first great stride for equality in America. In 1947, despite unanimous votes from fifteen Major League Baseball team owners to exclude African Americans, Vice President Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, making him the first black player in Major League Baseball since the 1880s and forever changing professional sports.

On Wednesday, the College of Communication’s Texas Program in Sports and Media brought Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie, and Branch Rickey III, grandson of the late Dodgers executive, to speak at the Lyndon B. Johnson Museum about Robinson’s legacy.

A multisport athlete at UCLA, Jackie Robinson had the opportunity to pursue other sports besides baseball. But there was no better vehicle to break down the color barrier in sports and society than America’s favorite pastime.

From the beginning to the end of his career, Robinson’s success was due more to his perseverence than his physical strength. Rickey III said there were better black baseball players at the time of Jackie’s recruitment, but none with the restraint to ignore the racist heckling Jackie would endure. However, his endurance by no means came easily.

“A legacy doesn’t just happen,” said Sharon Robinson. “The legacy of Jackie Robinson … becomes more clear the more we talk about it.” Sharing stories and anecdotes about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey is the best way to keep their legacies alive, the speakers agreed.

While Robinson’s contributions positively affected American sports, one can’t help but wonder if the sport of baseball has retreated since his breakthrough. Sharon, also an educational consultant for MLB, acknowledged that the decrease in numbers of black baseball players, both professionals and college players, is an unsettling trend.

Sharon’s dedication to urban youth is highlighted by her work as vice chairwoman of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Founded by Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson, the foundation provides four-year scholarships primarily to underprivileged minority students. The foundation’s scholars graduate from college at a rate of 97 percent, more than double the national average.

And since 2005, MLB has been operating and developing Urban Youth Acadmies around the U.S., which have increased minority involvement in baseball. “It’s a big step forward,” Sharon said. “They’re not just developing baseball players, but developing young people.”

Sharon Robinson speaks at the LBJ Library on Wednesday night. Photo by Charles Bogel. Courtesy the College of Communication.

 

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