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The 60th Anniversary of an American Hero

He was a black man, living in a white world. A time when the sky was blue, the grass was green, and everything else was white. He had to witness things during that time when racism was at its peak and stirring out of control. Everyday he had to listen to racial slurs being thrown at him, not being able to go to certain places because of his skin color, death threats, you name it the list goes on and on.There was one thing that this man wanted more than anything in life and would not stop until he achieved that dream. That dream was; acceptance. April 15, 2007 marked the 60th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke not only baseball’s color barrier, but this country’s. He not only changed the way we look at sports, he changed the way we look at life.“A life is not important,” he said, “except in the impact it has on other lives.” By that standard, few people — and no athlete — this century has impacted more lives. Robinson lit the torch and passed it on to several generations of African-American athletes. While the Brooklyn Dodgers infielder didn’t make a nation color blind, he at least made it more color friendly. And he accomplished this feat by going against his natural instincts. He was an aggressive man, outraged at injustice, and quick to stand up for his rights. He had the guts to say no when ordered to the back of the bus in the army, and was court-martialed for his courage. His instinct wasn’t to turn the other cheek, but to face problems head on. He was more prone to fighting back than holding back. That’s what Robinson had to do when Dodgers president Branch Rickey selected him to become the first African-American to play in the majors this century. Rickey wanted a man who could restrain himself from responding to the ugliness of the racial hatred that was certain to come. Robinson was the target of racial epithets and flying cleats, of hate letters and death threats, of pitchers throwing at his head and legs, and catchers spitting on his shoes. Robinson learned how to exercise self-control — to answer insults, violence and injustice with silence. A model of unselfish team play, he earned the respect of his teammates and, eventually, the opposition.

The 6-foot, 195-pound Robinson was the Rookie of the Year and two years later he was MVP. His lifetime average was .311 and he was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. it was No. 42’s aggressiveness on the basepaths that thrilled fans. It wasn’t so much his two stolen-base titles or his 197 thefts. It was the way he was a disruptive force, dancing off the base, drawing every eye in the stadium, making the pitcher crazy, instilling the Dodgers with the spirit that would help them win six pennants in his 10 seasons.

He became a vice president for Chock Full o’ Nuts before going into other businesses and politics. But his body, which had served him so well as an athlete, gave out early. Diabetes and heart disease weakened him and he was almost blind in middle age. On October 24, 1972, he died of a heart attack at 53. In 1997, baseball dedicated the season to Robinson on the 50th anniversary of his debut. His now famous #42 would be retired throughout baseball that year meaning no player would ever wear 42 ever again in baseball. The only exception to that rule is if any player had the number prior to the rule being established, they were able to keep wearing it until they retired.

Jackie once said “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me, all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” He lived his entire life just wanting to be respected and nothing more. With all of the negative things he had to endure on a daily basis he never fought back in a way of violence or saying comments back to people, he just held his head up high and continued on with his life because no matter what he always had respect toward others. It’s ironic that his popularity is at an all time high when he isn’t living to see it, but he is looking down on the world with a smile on his face knowing that his impact changed the way for major league baseball and our way of life.

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