When most folks think of a Black man or woman refusing to move to the back of the bus, the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks usually comes to mind. But did you know that while serving in the military, Jackie Robinson was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus? However, he made history “for real” in 1947 when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers and ended racial segregation in Major League Baseball. For those of you who may not know of this feat is it possible that “yinz” have been stranded at the international space station for the past 65 years?
I walked onto the field at PNC Park last Thursday evening to participate in the annual honorarium of Jackie Robinson. As far as weather, it was a great evening for a baseball game, or two if we would believe the words of the late great Chicago Cub Ernie Banks who would always say, “let’s play two.”
Usually I encounter a wide age group of kids and young adults from the inner city who have written a winning essay, or have received some sort of scholarship representing the excellence of the late great baseball superstar and activist. The 2012 participants totally broke the mold of seasons past.
According to Chaz Kellem, manager of diversity initiatives for the Pirates, “more than 2793 total entries into the essay competition were received. 123 schools submitted entries.169 teachers submitted entries. There were entries from three states and 13 different counties in Pennsylvania.” It is encouraging that the legacy of Jackie Robinson impacted students crossing all color and gender lines as well.
In sports as in life there should never be a specific race, gender or age that is forced to define what a role model should be. Two of my most influential role models were the late jazz and R&B trumpeter John “Squirrel” Mosley who I knew and who shook me up artistically, and the late Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President of the United States who I knew of most of my life; who shook my hand and offered me words of encouragement when I accompanied my father to a conference in Washington, D.C. in 1973.
Sometimes even some of my colleagues may erroneously perceive that the color of a player’s skin may supersede what I perceive as quality. As I settled into the press box at Mellon Arena to cover my first Penguins game of the 2009-10 season against the New Jersey Devils, I ran into a colleague Josh Yohe. Josh said, “Aubrey I’m not sure if you know it or not but the Devils have two players of color on their roster, Mark Fraser and Bryce Salvador.” Josh is a great and classy guy and by no means was he directly or indirectly playing the race card. However, being my first game of the season I am sure that he was just attempting to raise my level of awareness.
After the now retired legendary NHL strongman/enforcer Georges Laraque departed the Penguins, my interest in hockey did not decrease. The sport attracts my interest not because of the race of any of the players that take the ice on a daily basis.
Laraque was born in the city of Montreal, Quebec four years after the death of Jackie Robinson and hundreds of miles from the segregated American south. In 2009 I spoke with him and asked him to name one of his most influential role models growing up.
“There were no Black players in the NHL to inspire me, so I looked to learn from the experience of the Black baseball player Jackie Robinson. If he could become a great player after all he went through, so could I. One of the other things that I learned while reading all of the books about him was that he took advantage of all of his talents. I am respected as an enforcer. That ability has allowed me to play professional hockey and I am proud that I was given the opportunity to play in the NHL.”
As professionals from every corner of business, medicine, entertainment and the world of sports, we must make an effort to reach all children and also encourage them to search outside of the box, becoming comfortable with and accepting motivation from any and all sources of intellect, positive influence and energy.
According to mademan.com, “Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have all had a major cultural and athletic impact on China, a country with over 1.3 billion people. Although there are no accurate statistics available, as of 2012 there may be less than 100,000 Blacks residing in China, yet the athletes mentioned above have had a significant impact on Chinese basketball lovers between the ages of 12 and 35.
There are male, female, young and old Jackie Robinsons hailing from all backgrounds that are impacting society with no fanfare or hoopla. We must become “models” of citizenship as well as sculptors of character if more Jackie Robinsons are to emerge from our ranks.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)