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Showing grace under pressure

Showing grace under pressure
Showing grace under pressure
Dr. Wayne Willis

The Yankees and Dodgers may meet in the 2022 World Series. When I was in elementary school, the Dodgers were located not in Los Angeles, but in Brooklyn. And baseball, not football, was the national pastime.

Growing up in Tennessee in an all-white school, when I went away to college I had never seen a Black person inside my school or my church. I went off to Texas to a private college of 3,000 that was 100% segregated. I had a lot of growing up to do. So did the rest of the country.

Jackie Robinson, born into a family of sharecroppers in Cairo, Ga., helped me grow up. When he played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he became the first Black man to play major league baseball. From game one, he met racial obscenities, hate mail and death threats. He was hit by pitches 72 times. Whoever the Dodgers played, my unenlightened friends and I were for their opponent.

When Brooklyn manager Branch Rickey hired Robinson, Rickey wisely made Robinson agree to something like a non-retaliation pact. Rickey told Robinson he would have to have “guts enough not to fight back.” Rickey knew that Robinson had an explosive anger problem and would be sorely tested by players and coaches and spectators, in some ballparks more than others.

Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reece, from Louisville, played a key role in Jackie Robinson’s dealing with hecklers. In 1948, of the first game Brooklyn played in Boston, Robinson later said, “Pee Wee walked over to me and put his arm around me and talked with me in a friendly manner, smiling and laughing. That shut them up.”

Dr. King might comment that the content of Robinson’s character, his remarkable grace under pressure, carried the day.