Let us, for a moment, look beyond the cringe-worthy optic of the Pittsburgh Penguins seemingly walking in lockstep with some of the good, ol’ boys in NASCAR Cup racing, where the Confederate flag is as commonplace as country music, RVs and left turns.
Instead, it seems apropos to first point out that Jackie Robinson took a knee.
Not physically, understand. After all, the first black man to participate in a 20th-century Major League Baseball game had an agreement with team owner Branch Rickey to play the part of the obedient, turn-the-other-cheek worker during the formative years of his 10-season tour of duty with the storied Boys of Summer, the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson was, as New York Times columnist Arthur Daley opined, the right type of black man for the pioneering venture of breaking baseball’s color barrier.
“The muscular negro minds his own business and shrewdly makes no effort to push himself. He speaks intelligently when spoken to and already has made a strong impression,” Daley wrote of Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers in mid-April 1947.
That writing reeks of know-your-place-boy racism. It’s almost as if Daley believed Robinson was in Brooklyn to shine shoes and carry luggage rather than play baseball. But it’s just a small sampling of the rampant ridicule and discrimination that challenged the Dodgers infielder, who, as a lieutenant in the United States Army in 1944, was arrested, shackled and faced a court martial for declining a driver’s racist directive to “get to the back” of a military bus where the colored folk belonged. Robinson sometimes was required to eat at different restaurants and sleep in different hotels than his teammates, he received death threats and threats to his bride, Rachel, and their son, Jackie Jr. Long after he had become an established star in MLB, he and Rachel encountered numerous hindrances in seeking a home to purchase, road blocks based solely on the color of their skin.
Little wonder he wrote this in his 1972 autobiography I Never Had It Made:
“There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
I wonder, would U.S. President Donald J. Trump call Robinson a “son of a bitch?”
That, after all, is the Apprentice President’s chosen insult for the numerous National Football League performers who, during the playing of the American national anthem, are taking a knee in protest of racial injustice. At least one player in MLB has done the same. Others have raised fists in protest, evoking the image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. Still others, such as the members of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Sparks of the Women’s National Basketball Association, have remained in their changing rooms.
Trump would like to see all the “sons of bitches” fired.
But not the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They’re a “great team” don’t you know. Bless their bent noses and gummy grins, because they’ve accepted Trump’s invitation to grovel and genuflect at the White House. And those dudes in NASCAR? They’ll fire any driver, pit crew worker or team employee who drops to one knee during the anthem. Hell ya, they will! It’ll earn you “a ride on a Greyhound bus” out of town growls team owner Richard Childress.
“Anybody that don’t stand for that ought to be out of the country. Period,” legendary driver Richard Petty scoffs in concert.
The commander-in-chief is “so proud” of ’em, bless their bent fenders and southern drawls. And, hey, it’s just a coincidence that NASCAR is the whitest sport in the world. They’re his kind of people because bossman Brian France endorsed his bid for the White House in 2016.
“If the people that like and watch NASCAR vote for Donald Trump, they can cancel the election right now,” he bleated. “Nobody else can win. Nobody.”
I’m not sure what Jackie Robinson would make of all this noise, but I know he was heavily involved in civil rights post-career. He campaigned openly for Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential election and became pen pals with President John F. Kennedy, imploring JFK to get “angry” over racial injustice. So I’m guessing he’d align himself with NFL players and take a knee.
And if Donald Trump called him a “son of a bitch?” Little doubt Robinson would call the president a “son of a bitch” right the hell back.