Today, were Major
League Baseball not in lockdown due to the global coronavirus pandemic, would
have been Jackie Robinson Day. The annual celebration throughout professional baseball
marks the day, in 1947, when Jackie Robinson first took the field for the Brooklyn
Dodgers. He became the first black man to play in the Majors in the 20th
century and broke the color barrier in the sport.
ahead of the curve in terms of civil rights in America, with Jackie, through Dodgers
general manager, president and part-owner Branch Rickey, breaking the so-called
“gentleman’s agreement” of racial segregation in baseball. Robinson was signed
by Rickey in the 1945 offseason and played in 1946 with the minor league Montreal
Royals. This came an almost full two decades before the Civil Rights movement
sprung to the forefront of national consciousness in the early-1960’s.
On April 15,
1947, 73-years ago, Robinson stepped onto a major league field and forever
changed the sport and society.
is honored throughout MLB with his number 42 retired by every club. He was also
elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
influence on the sport is so great that the New York Yankees, a team he never
played for (and who was frequently his opponent come World Series time in the ‘40s
and ‘50s), have a plaque dedicated to him in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. Likewise,
the New York Mets (whose Citi Field is modeled on the Dodgers’ Ebbets Field)
named the main entrance to their stadium the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. It features
a large “42” that fans can take photos in front of, as well as pictures and
quotes from Jackie on the walls.
in baseball is widely felt and that got me to thinking of hockey and what is currently
being done to open it to a wider and more diverse audience.
is known as the “Jackie Robinson of hockey” due to him being the first black
man to play in the National Hockey League, suiting up for the Boston Bruins in
a mostly Canadian sport in the ‘50s and ‘60s – the days of only six teams in
the league, faced a less daunting task when it came to integrating. But, as NHL.com’s
John McGourty wrote in 2015, O’Ree did face problems. McGourty quoted him as
saying: “racist remarks were much worse in the US than in Toronto and Montreal.
Fans would yell ‘go back to the South’ and ‘how come you’re not picking cotton?’
Things like that. It didn’t bother me. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and
if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.”
legacy is felt in the NHL. From seeing more diverse players playing the league,
including PK Subban of the Devils, to the programs that help to get kids from different
backgrounds to suit up and take the ice.
Subban is a
shining example of how diversity helps the NHL. He does just as much off the
ice as he does on it. He is a hard-working player who will give you his all every
shift at the rink, a former Norris Trophy-winning defenseman. Away from the arena,
he is extremely charismatic and uses that in a good way. He is always great
with the fans and started the “Blueline Buddies” program to bring an inner-city
kid and a police officer to a Devils game.
this program while in Nashville playing for the Predators. He has brought it
with him to Newark. As he has pointed out, there exists some tension between
the police and many young people in cities across the US. Subban does this as a
way to bring the two communities together and bridge the gap, so to speak.
In a sense,
PK Subban is breaking barriers just as Jackie Robinson and Willie O’Ree did, albeit
in a slightly different way. He is breaking down the walls that exist between
the law enforcement community and residents of some of Newark’s lower-income neighborhoods.
He is trying to do his part as a professional athlete to lead his community.
There is nothing
that says an athlete must be a role model, but it is fantastic to see
someone as charismatic and outgoing as PK is to be a leader on and off the
field of play.
important is someone as low-key as Wayne Simmonds, a former Devil turned
Buffalo Sabre. As any fan of the Flyers can tell you (Simmonds spent his prime
in Philly), Simmonds is a true heart and soul guy who plays with grit and will end
up endearing himself to a fanbase. He is tough, scrappy and has a scoring tough
in front of the net.
a role model in a sense of how he plays the game as a great teammate and a
But just as
much as players like Subban and Simmonds have been leaders in their communities
and on the ice, fans have to lead in the stands.
There have been
instances in recent years involving fans berating minority players, especially
on social media. What comes to mind is the 2012 playoffs and Joel Ward of the Washington
Capitals’ overtime goal to eliminate the Bruins in game seven of their first
We, as fans,
need to remember that the players on the ice are human beings first and
foremost and treat them with the respect that they deserve. It is fine to
debate them for their hockey skills, that is what we are here for, that is what
the players are there for. But once you get into the realm of insulting a
player based on his personal traits, you cross a line.
That is where
the NHL’s Hockey is For Everyone initiative comes in. Through this, the NHL is
trying to teach that anyone, regardless, of skin color, religion, sexual
disability or any other non-essential hockey quality,
can play this game.
The NHL suspends
and fines players for abusing other players or officials using racist language.
We fans are on the honor system. No one is going to fine us some of our
salaries should we use the n-word to describe a player or another fan on Twitter.
All that happens is we look like idiots.
that this has been a long-winded and rambling way to say “be nicer to each
other out there,” but I wanted to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson in any way
that I could. Tying it in to hockey and hockey fandom is the best way I knew
Stay safe and