On the TUNNEYSIDE of SPORTS April 22, 2013 #433                     Up next…”42”

After further review…The Jackie Robinson biopic directed by Brian Helgeland and just released by Warner Bros., is a story that will reach deep into your soul. The world it inhabits is baseball, America’s erstwhile national pastime. But it is far more than a baseball film; it’s a story about human beings for human beings. The film uses baseball and Jackie Robinson as a vehicle to describe the struggle of an African-American player being integrated into what was then an “all-white man’s game”.

Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford) the Brooklyn Dodgers’ President and GM, was the force behind the inclusion of the first black player in Major League Baseball. Scrutinizing the Negro league, Rickey searched for a candidate who could not only play the game at the highest professional, but could also withstand the degradation and humiliation that would inevitably occur. He chose Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman), born in Georgia, but raised in Pasadena, California. After attending and staring in four sports at Pasadena Junior College, Robinson had been a successful and superlative athlete at U.C.L.A.

The film begins in August, 1945, the year he was signed by Rickey to a minor league contract in Montreal. However, I had met Jack Roosevelt Robinson in the fall of 1937. My dad, Jim Sr., refereed many junior college football games, quite often in the Rose Bowl where PJC played. Carrying dad’s officiating bag, we would simply walk through the gate, (security being almost non-existent), down the ramp, and into the officials’ dressing room. When the crew of four would emerge, I walked with them onto the Rose Bowl field and sat on the home team’s (PJC) bench.

I clearly remember dad approaching me at halftime one game and saying, “Now just watch this colored boy play, he’s really something” as he pointed to Jackie. (Remember that this was 1937 and “colored” was considered an acceptable term for African-Americans in that era). Dad, who earlier that decade had been Kenny Washington’s football coach at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles and helped him get into U.C.L.A. (where he later played in the same backfield with Jackie), had nothing but respect for them both. As I followed Jackie’s career through UCLA and into the Dodgers organization, I’m proud to say he became part of my heritage.

Each April 15th every MLB player, wears the number 42 in tribute to a player I met when he was a teenager. What a fortunate circumstance!

Will you seek out others who may provide you with a model that you can emulate?

To contact Jim go to www.jimtunney.com or email him at jim@jimtunney.com


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