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More Than a Number: 42

On August 28th, Major League baseball decided to honor the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson. This is a very historic date in black history as it is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which is where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech as the entire African American community was advocating for civil and economic rights.

Although Jackie Robinson Day is traditionally on April 15th, there have been many recent events that have transpired over the past year to move this very important day to August. The main reason why the day was not celebrated in full on April 15th was because the baseball season was temporarily suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic peaking during that time.

Now with baseball in full gear, players around the league were able to represent the number 42 properly. This number possesses so much more power than just a number on a jersey. From Robinson breaking the color barrier, to the Black Lives Matter Movement, to the recent and untimely death of Chadwick Boseman, this number holds such significant value.

Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson. Starting out in the Negro Leagues, Robinson thrived and eventually got the attention of a major league ball club. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey scouted Robinson and decided to sign him despite all of the backlash he would receive. It was not Robinson’s athletic ability that was the question, but his mental stability.

Right out of the gate, the infielder was subject to constant racial abuse and one of the main reasons that Rickey signed him was because he believed that Robinson could endure the neglect. One of the most critical components that Rickey told Robinson during their contract negotiations was to always “turn the other cheek” and “not to fight back” as Robinson had to prove he was above everyone else. One mental lapse and everyone around the country will start generalizing black baseball players as a detriment to the game.

Robinson’s will is what made him so special and what made it possible for him to play Major League Baseball in an entirely white league. The number on his back showed that he was just another ball player, just like his fellow white teammates.

Baseball honors Robinson every year with all the players wearing the number 42 on their jerseys without their last names. It is to display unity, as background and race do not matter on the baseball diamond, as everyone is one in the same; ballplayers. 

Ironically, the same day that Major League Baseball honored one of the most important athletes to ever step on a professional field, the man who portrayed him in film tragically passed away.

This past Friday, actor Chadwick Boseman lost his battle to colon cancer after fighting it for four challenging years. Boseman played Robinson in the 2013 biopic 42, which portrayed the baseball players’ struggle to be accepted into the big leagues amid all the racial adversity.

He did a phenomenal job in capturing the true character of Robinson and his incredible performance helped share the story of one of the most important historical figures in sports. The film really emphasized the power of sports and how much of a difference one person can make. Boseman was an icon in the African American community, not just from his role as Jackie Robinson, but through his numerous roles playing important real life and fictional characters.

The actor had some legendary roles, including playing James Brown in Get on Up and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, both of whom were revolutionary in their respective fields for the black community. Brown, “The Godfather of Soul”, helped unite people through his charismatic music following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Marshall was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.

These idolized figures were instrumental to events like the civil rights movement and Boseman was able to bring them to life on the big screen.

However, his most well-known role is playing T’Challa, the Black Panther, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was the first African American lead in a Marvel movie after a previous seventeen installments without one. His character was not just a hero saving the world, but an inspiration for black people across the nation.

The success of Black Panther, which had a predominantly black cast, proved that diversified films can thrive in Hollywood. It was a statement film, and a great reflection of what the number 42 means. It is a representation of something greater than what is just seen on the outside.

Boseman was a role model for people of color everywhere, proving that anything can be accomplished through integrity and determination. He worked his way up to reach his elite stature after years of hard work, truly breaking out as an actor during his role in 42.

The actor was a bit of a late bloomer, not getting many lead parts until playing the iconic ball player during his mid-thirties. And the fact that Boseman played so many pivotal people who shaped American history, as well as portraying one of the most beloved superheroes in recent years makes his untimely death hit even closer to home.

He impacted so many lives with his prowess in the film industry, as his legacy will live on forever. Much of his success can be credited to the movie 42, which gave him the initial spotlight, so he could shine and inspire in so many other ways later on in his life.

Our country is very divided at this moment in time. With so many issues going on around the world, conflict among ourselves is not one that should be happening. However, with police brutality unfortunately becoming more common, change is necessary as controversy has engulfed the nation.

The death of George Floyd in May of this year sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, which has people all over the country coming together to protest for justice. What 42 represents can not be more apparent then right now. It is symbolic of breaking down barriers and stereotypes. No person should look at another human being differently because of their skin color.

Robinson embodied all the characteristics of a good natured person and the reason he is celebrated by baseball annually is because he brought positive change to not only baseball, but to the United States of America. It is only fitting that the last major league player to wear the number 42 is Mariano Rivera. The greatest closer of all-time chose the number in honor of Robinson. As it was Jackie stepping onto the field on April 15, 1947 that allowed all the players of color since to play ball too.

If Robinson can revolutionize an entire sport by just playing a game with the number 42 on his back, then there’s no reason why people today can not just unite. There is no need for a divide, everyone is human, everyone is entitled to equal rights. No more unnecessary violence, no more fighting, be like 42 and be better than everyone else.

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