Jackie Robinson and the movie “42” have been the talk of the cinema town this spring and summer. It is a family-friendly depiction about the storied player Jackie Robinson and his incredible self-control in the face of overt racism and hatred.
In “42,” Robinson joins the Brooklyn Dodgers. With his athletic prowess and the easy-going front he demonstrated to the world, he warms the country to the idea of integrated baseball in the Major Leagues. Robinson changed the world as we know it. I contend that he was a critical beam in the building. The architect was a person by the name of Branch Rickey.
There are many facts about Rickey that made him a pioneer in baseball. He engineered the notion of the baseball farm team to save money and develop talent. He was among the first to utilize batting cages and pitching machines to maximize talent, and he had long dreamed to integrate Major League Baseball. Rickey, the general manager for the Dodgers in 1946, decided that his team was ready for this experiment. His choosing of Robinson was a calculated move.
One fact often overlooked about Branch Rickey is that he was a devout Methodist. He did not drink alcohol nor attend baseball games on Sunday because it was the Lord’s day, dedicated for prayer.
Rickey, after witnessing segregation and racism in college, was upset at himself for not using his voice to advocate for others who could not speak up for themselves. He lived years of his life riddled with guilt that he had not done more. Thus, when Rickey was general manager of the Dodgers, he set out to make history and right a wrong, even if years later.
I contend that Rickey’s sense of religion connected to guilt and a notion of teshuvah (though he probably knew it by another name) was what compelled him to seek integration. Were he not a religious man, dedicated to the word of God and deeds, the compulsion to make right a wrong might not have even existed.
One thing most religions give us is guilt. A sense of right and wrong, good and bad, are determined, and we spend our lives trying to live within the correct bounds of the ledger. When we cross the line, our guilt kicks in along with specific methods to make it right. This is the process of forgiveness and starting anew. This notion is timeless. It exists for you and me just as it did for Branch Rickey at a very different time and place.
Once, an aide to Martin Luther King Jr., heard him testify that were it not for Jackie Robinson playing Major League Baseball, he would never have had the “dream” to believe that white and black worlds could live in harmony together. Barack Obama and Condoleeza Rice both point to King as a leading figure in shaping their hope for leadership in America amongst the black community. Were it not for Branch Rickey, perhaps none of it would have happened in the first place, or at least at the pace and in the fashion it occurred.
Teshuvah is a powerful beast. It comes in the wake of bad, wrong, hurt, and upset. But making that bad and wrong good and right can be a liberating experience – and, dare I say, an experience that if driven by a deep-seated belief in God and God’s awesomeness can encourage us to make bold decisions that can literally change the world, one life at a time.
This Yom Kippur I encourage you to be compelled by teshuvah – pure repentance and its redemptive spirit. Let it inspire us – individually and collectively – to create a new beginning of hope and peace and harmony.
G’mar chatimah tovah – a good final inscription in the Book of Life.