Jackie Robinson, What Were You Thinking?

By Wesley Chism Jr.
Updated: February 4, 2009

SEATTLE — Being “the first” at something isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, trust me. I was the first African American kid in my elementary school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and ever day I was show and tell.

It takes a special type of person to go where no man has gone before, especially one who looks different from what people are use to seeing or comfortable being around.

Sure, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball as he entered the league in 1947 was a great accomplishment that we all applaud and are very proud of it.

The truth of the matter was that all he wanted to do was play a simple kids game, baseball. He wasn’t trying to make any statement nor had a hidden agenda other than proving that he could compete with anyone and belonged.

By doing this, Jackie Robinson put himself in a very vulnerable position where his failure or success wasn’t just a reflection on him but millions of African Americans and other people of color around the world.

I can’t even imagine the weight that he was carrying on his shoulders. With every swing of his bat, the world was watching, listening and reading everyday to see not only what he could do but how he would respond.

“Sticks and stones my brake my bones but names will never hurt me.” That’s the biggest lie that I’ve ever heard or at least second too, “I never had sexual relations with that women.”

The names that Jackie was called were cruel and demeaning. It wasn’t like there were just one or two hecklers in the stands but thousands. These ignorant people would come to the game early just to unleash this hate.

To have your life threaten in every other city, the threatening phone calls to your home or hotel and countless pieces of hate mail just to play baseball doesn’t seem worth it to me but it did to Jackie Robinson.

Despite all of that, I imagine that the worst thing that Jackie Robinson probably faced was dealing with the media after every game and their bias line of questioning. I’m sure that they would always try to bait him into something or catch him off guard.

For example, Jackie could’ve just hit for the cycle and some journalist would come up and ask him, “Great game but what do you think about that colored guy named Wesley who robbed that liquor store and shot everybody inside?

Jackie wasn’t given the courtesy of a brush back pitch. Often times it was the intent of the opposing team to hit him and when they did he just dust himself off and headed to first base.

I imagine that not being a big deal for him, what really hurt was not having anyone in the dugout to charge the mound or at least make some type of gesture for his defense.

All of this over a simple game of baseball? Yes! And there’s nobody that could’ve served as a vessel to document this moment in history better than Jackie Robinson.

He was so much more than a baseball player. Jackie Robinson had integrity, perseverance and indomitable spirit. What he did on the field was just as relevant as what he did off the field.

I am humbled and grateful for his sacrifice.