Remembering Charlottesville and ‘42’
Published 8:35 am Thursday, August 9, 2018
The film “42” is about Jackie Robinson, one of the first African-American Major-League Baseball players.
In one scene, the opposing coach was taunting Jackie as he came up to bat. The loud racist remarks were degrading, vicious and cruel. Frustrated, Jackie swung the bat at a bad pitch, hit a fly ball and was easily put out. All the way back to the dugout, the taunting words of the opposing manager followed him. “You’ll never make it, (racist remark). Your kind never will.”
Jackie stomped angrily back toward the dugout, past the players toward a tunnel underneath the stadium. Alone, he began to furiously beat his bat against the wall: screaming in pain and agony.
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Branch Rickey, the manager, appeared as Jackie shouted over and over, “How much more can I take? How much?” Branch put his arm around Jackie and gently replied, “If you go out and retaliate, the papers won’t report what that manager said, they will only write that Jackie Robinson fell apart. You couldn’t take it.” Jackie then asked, “What am I supposed to do?” Branch said, “Get a hit, steal a base, score a run. Do your job and you will ultimately prove him and your detractors wrong. Jackie, you need to go out there and do what you do best.”
Jackie found the courage to follow Branch Rickey’s advice. He would make a hit, steal a base and score a run and continued to do so throughout the season. Today, Jackie Robinson is honored as one of the greatest baseball players who ever played. His number “42” is retired from every team in Major League Baseball except for one day each year when every player wears “42” as a tribute to this remarkable man. Jackie Robinson displayed incredible courage in the face of persecution.
Last year, white supremacists and racists descended on Charlottesville with a message full of hate. As we struggle with what took place, Christians and churches should seriously consider even today how to respond. We’re encouraged to take a stand against the hatred and violence but how? Expressing anger, complaining, talking trash politics and promoting equally violent responses of any kind will only provoke more of the same. How can we respond in a way that promotes God’s healing grace?
As Jackie Robinson exclaimed in frustration: “What am I supposed to do?” If we take our faith seriously, we are testimony to God’s love in the midst of racism. We may be taunted, challenged and even threatened. Yet Jesus says, “When someone hits you on one cheek, offer the other.” Jackie Robinson learned to display incredible courage in the face of persecution. Striking back seems courageous on the surface but others will only remember that “you” fell apart. You couldn’t take the pressure.
Remember what Branch Rickey said to Jackie: Do your job and do it well. Keep a smile on your face and keep doing what God would have you do. That is the only way to ultimately prove your detractors wrong. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.
So, what would be an appropriate response for Christians and churches everywhere? We can be the church amid the racial hatred and strife surrounding us.
1. We stretch our friendship comfort zone beyond our group of immediate friends and establish relations with people from other cultures, races and economic status. 2. As a church, we establish better and more diverse relationships within our community. We set a more visible example so our witness shines like the light of God we are called to be. 3. As a community we can be active, calming presence. When debate is called for we participate, seeking to understand both sides and speaking compassionately and firmly for the rights of all. Is it easy? Never. But is it worthwhile? Always.
Years later, looking back on Jackie Robinson’s career, Branch Rickey said: “I was watching a little league game and saw several of the boys rubbing their hands in the dirt and practicing their swing. They were swinging their bat the exact same way they saw Jackie Robinson do it.” Branch said, “Think about it, those white children were imitating you, Jackie. You are their hero.”
As for the opposing manager who taunted and ridiculed Jackie Robinson? After that season ended, he was fired and never managed a major-league baseball team again.
Persecution, taunting and cruelty happens and could threaten anyone at any time. What happened in Charlottesville can just as easily happen in your community. How will you respond? Will you have the courage to do what is right, regardless of the consequences? Can you do your job and do it well? Can you keep a smile on your face? Can you turn the other cheek but still speak up for what is right? What God requires of us is to act justly, to have mercy and to walk humbly with God.
REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@sowingseedsoffaith. com.