If you have not heard the story by now, the statue of the late great Dodgers baseball player Jackie Robinson was defaced outside MCU Park in Brooklyn, home of the New York Mets affiliate The Brooklyn Cyclones. Yes, things are vandalized all the time in New York City, but this is particularly painful for not only baseball fans but anyone who knows the story of Robinson, a man who defied the odds and blazed a path against racism that helped changed America for the better.
The statue is not just a tribute to Robinson, for it also features the image of Pee Wee Reese, Dodgers captain at the time (May 1947). It commemorates a moment when Robinson, while playing at Cincinatti’s Crosley Field, had been subjected to racist jeers and jaunts from the crowd. Reese walked over to Robinson, put his arm around him, and effectively told everyone everywhere to cut out the racist garbage. Reese basically said that this man is my friend, my teammate, and a Major League Baseball player. The rest, as they always say, is history.
Of course, history means nothing to some idiots, perhaps drunk or high, who think they are going to make a statement. No doubt beyond the scope of their limited intelligence, they understand nothing of Robinson’s struggle, of how his bravery helped pave the way for others, how his endurance changed the era he lived in and marked him as a hero forevermore. No, these punks cared nothing about that; they had an agenda based on ignorance and stupidity, so they scrawled “Heil Hitler,” racial slurs, and swastikas on the statue as proof of their idiocy.
Any rational student of history reviles Adolf Hitler, remembers his racist behavior at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, when he ranted and raved about United States champion Jesse Owens (who was black). How could he be better than any German runner, he of Hitler’s “master race,” and embarrass Hitler on his home turf? The universe works in strange ways, but this was foreshadowing of what was to come, how Hitler would let his racial obsessions lead to the travesties of World War II and the horrors of concentration camps.
If these perpetrators are followers of a despicable guy like Hitler, we know where they are coming from. The fact that they chose to defile Robinson’s statue – one that included Reese and commemorated a moment of racial harmony that had a lasting impact – is proof that they are nefarious people who need to be caught and prosecuted. The NYPD is investigating this as a “hate crime” but it is much more than that; it is an offense to baseball history, to a man of extraordinary integrity, and is a poor attempt at that.
Only recently the sports world dealt with NFL player Riley Cooper’s racist rant, and now we have this. Make no mistake, this is (as with Cooper) an isolated incident that is not indicative of a larger and more prevalent mentality; however, racism anywhere is a threat to all of us because intolerance can always lead to more aggressive and dangerous situations.
It is crucial now for us to find the people who did this and exact punishment, but we should also utilize this incident as yet another teachable moment. Children should realize how repugnant such behavior is, how it qualifies those who did it as ignorant and intolerant, and that the stupidity of a few fools does nothing to change the salient facts – Jackie Robinson is an American icon, a hero, and his legacy is eternal.
Yes, grief grows in Brooklyn as we have seen this senseless debasement of this statue, but we will get past this. All of us must use this incident as a reminder of the ignorance and intolerance that still exists. It indicates that we have not come far enough in race relations, and more importantly, that we have miles and miles to go before we can believe we have achieved enough that we can sleep.
As for Robinson, this defilement does nothing but highlight his place as an American icon. Something like this only reminds us of his accomplishments, of his strength and exemplary behavior, and now more than ever we realize that his legacy was not for just his time, or ours, but for all time.
Photo credit: statue-AP; Jackie-biography.com