The Color Barrier and Beyond

By Andrew White

It is April 15, 1947. Brooklyn is abuzz with news that the Dodgers are debuting a player they acquired from the Montreal Royals. He will be making his major league debut at first base, and has been assigned the number 42. There hadn’t been a player like him since 1880. His name is Jackie Robinson, and unbeknownst to him, he is changing the game forever. Yet, what would of happened had their never been a Jackie Robinson and the color barrier never been broken in any sport?

According to historical sources, Jackie Robinson had been a baseball player long before he was a major leaguer. Jackie was in the military as a second lieutenant. He was discharged after he refused to move to the back of a bus, and was charged with being a drunk despite the fact that he had abstained from drinking beer. After getting a taste of the culture of the time, Robinson decided to pursue a career in the Negro Leagues (an all black baseball league), where he signed with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. However, his Negro League career would only last one year as the following year the Montreal Royals would sign Jackie to a minor league deal. After it was clear the Royals would not integrate, Jackie was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. From there he would go on to great success, and by 1959 the major leagues would be integrated.

Now, back to my point what would have happened had the Dodgers never let Jackie play and had he ended his Major League effort going back to the Kansas City Monarchs. The landscape of sports would go from a lush forest to a desert. Just look at the major league record books. The home run king would still be Babe Ruth, and he is currently fourth on that list behind Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds. The Baseball Hall of Fame would lose more than half its members. Some of the greatest characters and people of the game like Ozzie Smith, Willie Mays (my favorite player of all time), and Roberto Clemente might have been near unknowns. That is just baseball. Could you think of an NBA without Michael Jordan’s playoff heroics, or Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, or Kareem Abdul-Jabber’s records? Just look at the All-Star team roster and think of how many of those players would be there if basketball was segregated. You would not be able to field a team. The NFL, would be without some of its most beloved figures like Mean Joe Green, Reggie White, Jerry Rice, and so many other icons. Also, how would the Super Bowl have been had Joe Flacco not had Anquan Boldin, or Jacoby Jones to throw to? Would there have been as dominating a defensive performance without Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, or Ed Reed? It is unfathomable to see a dominating defense without them.

To put it simply, black athletes have transformed sports. Without these individuals, modern day sports would be a husk of what they are today. It is funny to think that sports would become a launching point for the civil rights movement and how it was over 14 years ahead of the nation. Yes, I believe firmly that the number 42 is deservingly retired from the game, for not only did Jackie Robinson change the face of baseball, he changed the world of sports forever.

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