Lessons From Jackie Robinson

I really don’t remember Jackie Robinson playing baseball, but it appears he was done playing in the early 50’s. I do remember reading about him, and I had one of his trading cards. I used to have a shoebox full of cards for my favorite players. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Willie Davis, Sandy Koufax, and Warren Spaulding. My favorite player was Sandy Koufax. I was a left-handed pitcher in little league, just had too much of a temper to be any good.

Jackie Robinson was not only an amazing player, but he changed society. I teach at a small college which states that it believes in diversity. There is a real consistency between what the college says it believes and what it does, and I love it. My students bring a rich diversity to the classroom that is stimulating. Jackie Robinson had brought a rich diversity to baseball that was and is wonderful too.

Why Jackie Robinson? With some many incredible black players at the time in the Negro Leagues, why did Branch Rickey, President of the Dodgers, choose number 42? Chris Lamb explores this in today’s paper, and I for one found it very interesting. Branch Rickey was a man who believed in God, which I did not know, and he wanted to break the color barrier in baseball. To do this, he knew he had to find the right man for the job. Lamb states that Rickey asked Robinson, “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough to not fight back.” Rickey read a passage from the book, Life of Christ, where Jesus tells the disciples to turn the other cheek. The rest is history.

Organizations today are concerned about change. But they need to learn from number 42 and Branch Rickey. Choosing the right people to be involved with the change and lead the change is critical. Things that I didn’t know about Jackie Robinson was that he grew up in Pasadena. His mother taught him to believe in God, but due to the racist environment of the time had some problems. The Rev. Karl Downs was used by God to make faith real to Robinson. As Lamb states, “Downs became the channel through which religious faith finally flowed into Jack’s consciousness and was finally accepted there.” It became a “pragmatic way to negotiate the world.”

Not only was Branch Rickey a believer who would not attend baseball games on Sunday, but he also was pragmatic. He helped Robinson see the power of non-resistance that would eventually become the mantra of Dr. Martin Luther King. This mixture of faith and practice was expressed in a comment Robinson made in an interview. “In a 1950 interview, he [Robinson] emphasized his faith in God and his nightly ritual of kneeling at his bedside to pray.” Robinson stated, “It’s the best way to get closer to God, and a hard hit ground ball.” Faith and practice a great mix.

Character, faith, and leadership are elements needed in organizations today. Yesterday in one of my classes we discussed the CEO of the Chicago Tribune who was fired from and his job due to running the paper into the ground. He was a sleazeball who liked to pay women $100 to show their breasts.

This CEO’s unethical leadership destroyed an institution, while the faith and nonresistance of Robinson saved another. I know what I will be doing from now on.

And that is my thought for the day!



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