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Good old 42

Samantha Zuba | Tuesday, April 16, 2013

42. It’s the only number retired by every Major League baseball club. And now it’s a movie that depicts the life of the great Jackie Robinson, the man behind good old number 42. By taking a walk through Robinson’s playing career, “42” does a good job reminding us why he mattered.

The filmmakers tackled quite the challenge when they decided to make a movie about Jackie Robinson. Robinson’s legend as a ballplayer and groundbreaking person deserves representation as great as the man himself. So thank goodness the film is pretty good.

Could the storyline have delved a little deeper into his character? Yes. Were there a couple of awkward moments? Yes. But “42” is a good movie that addresses more than Robinson’s baseball legacy.

The movie vividly depicts the hatred and threats he endured in every ballpark he visited. Robinson repeatedly insists, as he did in real life, all he wants to do is play baseball. It should have been simple. There should not have been a reason Robinson couldn’t play if he was good enough to make the Dodgers.
When Robinson finally made the team, America quickly discovered he certainly was good enough. He won Rookie of the Year in 1947, and then played his way to an illustrious Hall of Fame career with a .311 career batting average and 1,518 hits.

Robinson was a great baseball player, but that’s not the reason one player from each Major League Baseball team wears the number 42 for a game on Jackie Robinson Day each year. Other baseball icons like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron don’t enjoy that honor.

But Jackie Robinson was more than a baseball icon. He was, and still is, an American icon.

Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, the two highest civilian honors in the United States. Robinson did not receive these medals for the number of hits he got. He was honored because of how he hit them: with dignity. He refused to be marginalized, but he also refused to use violence to silence his abusers.

Did Robinson change America overnight? No. He just wanted to play ball. But in doing so, he showed America courage that it desperately needed to see.That’s what “42” reminds us. Robinson’s legacy extends far beyond baseball, as it should.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.