JR42 in the Age of Rapinoe
In the news, the American soccer federation has officially dropped its ban on players taking a knee during the pre-game Anthem, which made sense, inasmuch as many women on the team were doing it anyway.
One of the leaders of that gesture was Megan Rapinoe, the charismatic and inventive force for this generation of championships and public prominence.
As it happens, I have been reading a new book, “42 Today: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy,” edited by Michael G. Long, which goes from the bad old days to the time of Colin Kaepernick, the ostracized quarterback.
(I have a chapter in Long’s book, a labor of love for JR42 and all the positive things he wrought.)
One of the many great chapters is “The First Famous Jock for Justice,” contributed by Peter Dreier, whose second paragraph lists a history of activist-athletes after JR42: starting with Muhammad Ali and Roberto Clemente and noting Billie Jean King, and moving into current outspoken athletes – LeBron James, Sean Doolittle and Kaepernick.
The last name on the list is Megan Rapinoe, she of the hair that blends pink/purple/platinum/lavender into a Megan-esque one of a kind. She also draws notice with her imaginative forays from the left wing, dismaying her coaches until they realized she opened defenses and won championships with her copious supply of quick wits and gall.
What would Jackie Robinson think of Megan Rapinoe? That is the question for today, and really the question posed by this thoughtful and knowledgeable book. In Michael Long's introduction, Rachel Robinson, named “The Queen Mother” by the late Joe Morgan, is not sure how her patriotic, ex-Army-officer, pro-business, one-time Nixonite Republican late husband, would feel about taking a knee during the anthem.
Then again, what would Jackie Robinson have thought about a seditious President organizing and goading a raggle-taggle army of thugs and lunatics and racists into a murderous assault on the Capitol? What would JR42 have thought about the death-by-knee of George Floyd and the shooting of a jogger, Armaud Arbery?
In his chapter, Dreier supplies Robinson's point of view, as presented in his 1972 book, "I Never Had It Made," with Alfred Duckett: "I can't believe that I have it made while so many of my Black brothers and sisters are hungry, in adequately housed, insufficiently clothed, denied their dignity, live in slums or barely exist on welfare. I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world."
These are pertinent issues in Long's brand-new book as contemporary as outing the Golden Globes for having zero, count-em zero, voters for Sunday’s awards (with numerous black winners.)
It is always useful to take a fresh look at historical figures, every decade or two. My chapter, “Jackie Robinson Ball,” recalls how Robinson imported the dashing, disruptive style of the Negro Leagues into the so-called Major Leagues – Chuck Berry and Aretha Franklin playing on the same card as Doris Day and Bing Crosby, if you will. He caught the “major leagues” flat-footed.
The other chapters are stimulating and courant, by writers familiar to me, like Howard Bryant and Gerald Early and Jonathan Eig and others with academic and political outlooks. One illuminating chapter looks into Robinson’s spiritual life as a Methodist; another looks into the failure of white mainstream journalism to make a big deal of Robinson’s first tense spring, 1947.
One chapter that taught me a lot was “I’ve Got to Be Me,” by Yohuru Williams, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Williams’ great feel for the shifting tectonic plates of public life comes through as he delineates how Robinson, the wannabe pro-business Republican, navigated the borders of Martin Luther King, the NAACP, the Black Panthers and Malcolm X.
Robinson was inclined to oppose the black-gloved display by two Olympic medalists in 1964, but later he remembered Malcolm’s prophetic charge: “Jackie, in days to come, your son and my son will not be willing to settle for things we are willing to settle for.” Years after Malcolm’s assassination, Robinson added: “I am certain that this is correct and that this is the way it should be.”
Jackie Robinson is not confined to the memories of aging Brooklyn Dodger fans like me. Michael Long’s book makes JR42 a living and evolving presence in the age of Kaepernick and Rapinoe.
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Ladies and gentlemen, Woodrow (Buddy) Johnson with Count Basie:
3/1/2021 05:54:35 pm
I can see my late Brooklyn born & raised Brooklyn Dodger loving grandfather smiling as that song plays. Thanks for the visual George!
3/2/2021 08:22:06 am
Michael; Those were the days., Wish I had spent more time, taking three subway lines into deepest Brooklyn, to see the Bums in their habitat. GV
3/1/2021 07:56:30 pm
Always encouraging reading stories about JR42.
3/2/2021 08:25:56 am
Curt, thanks. That is one of the strengths of this fine book -- so many ways to look at JR42 -- as shown by the shadings of who he was and what he accomplished. I met him once as a kid, and he bawled me out when I interviewed him by phone in mid-60s -- after I agreed that my wonderful employer (Newsday) had no Blacks in the sports section. I felt his burning cause, and am driven by it., GV
3/1/2021 08:16:55 pm
SUPER! Never heard that! Smiles, smiles, smiles. Basie was a favorite musician and Peggy’s friend when she produced jazz concerts, including Basie, at the Smithsonian, in the 70s.
3/2/2021 08:30:10 am
Ed; I did not know Peggy produced shows at the Smithsonian. You two are having fascinating lives. The Count lived in St. Albans, Queens, where the Robinsons lived for a while., GV
3/1/2021 11:01:50 pm
3/2/2021 04:17:42 pm
Great pair of journalists we are....Peter Dreier dropped me a note, very politely telling me that Arthur is in his list of activists. Of course he is.
3/2/2021 02:06:19 am
George - Thanks for the shout-out about my chapter in the "42 Today" book. In terms of your question: how would JR feel about taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem? He answered that question in his in his 1972 autobiography, "I Never Had It Made." Robinson wrote: "I can’t believe that I have it made while so many of my Black brothers and sisters are hungry, inadequately housed, insufficiently clothed, denied their dignity, live in slums or barely exist on welfare. I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.” https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/huac-jackie-robinson-paul-robeson/
3/3/2021 09:50:15 am
Dear Peter Dreier: This is my updated note, after clearing up a few things in my text. Thank you for your rich and knowing chapter. You will note, that for accuracy, I have now included the quote from the Robinson-Duckett collaboration. Also, my frequent and perceptive correspondent, Bruce, read past Arthur Ashe's name in your list, and so did I, at first -- updated above. I knew Arthur -- saw him play one of his first matches at Forest Hills, and years later spent good times chatting with him in the press box at the stadium that would, way too soon, be named for him. His work in South Africa and elsewhere made him an automatic for your lit. I miss him. Thanks so much for your attention. GV
3/3/2021 10:19:29 am
3/2/2021 12:08:16 pm
George wrote, "Wish I had spent more time, taking three subway lines into deepest Brooklyn, to see the Bums in their habitat." But in his later years he's made it possible for others to see "deepest Brooklyn" (i.e. Ebbets Field). My poor Salvadoran wife, Guadalupe, has had to listen to me talk about it endlessly, including the day in April, 1947, when my dad took me there to see Jackie break the color line (we couldn't get in; half of Brooklyn was on line to buy tickets, and the game sold out before we could get to the ticket window). When Guadalupe and I visited the U.S. some years back (we live in El Salvador), George and Marianne drove us all the way from their home, out on Long Island, in to the place where Ebbets Field (here genuflect) once stood. Does it get any better than that?
3/2/2021 04:26:33 pm
Gene: I think that was the time the four of us met in Park Slope at that Italian restaurant. I was so charmed by Guadalupe that I came up with side trips, to Bedford Ave, and the site of Ebbets Field -- definitely the most holy shrine in the Borough of Churches. Nuestros saludos, G&M
3/2/2021 05:08:20 pm
Since, like everyone else I focused on Jackie, I want to say that I admire Megan and have loved Women’s soccer since they first emerged on the scene, Mia Hamm and Co. I watched a game, believe it was their first WC, might have been Olympics, on a tv in Boulder. I asked the bar tender, we were staying in a tv-less apartment, and he looked at me funny, but there were no other customers. As the afternoon went on stidents started arriving, including a number of “girls,” I say that advisedly, they were U. Colo. kids, and as the US team won, a good time was had by all. Alan, I had that revelation that they were really good, better than any college teams I had seen. They are my favorite futbol/soccer team, and Megan has graduated from imp, to icon.
3/3/2021 11:30:29 am
I have always had an interest in women’s sports going back to the sprinter Wilma Rudolph when I was in high school. It may have originated with my sister when I was ten. She was three and a half years older and an amazing athlete.
3/3/2021 11:43:44 am
alan, i've opined to george many times that i think berra's 1950 season--my year of birth, contain one of the more amazing stats in baseball...doing this from memory but i think it's right. yogi fanned 12 times in about 656 plate appearances. he was very well known as having a pretty generous interpretation of the strike zone. his power figures were good that year. the following season was similar.
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.