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.
* * *
Ladies and gentlemen, Woodrow (Buddy) Johnson with Count Basie:
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.