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Remembering Robinson: groups work to preserve Jackie's legacy

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2015 11:30 a.m. MDT

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in "42." (Warner Bros.) Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in "42." (Warner Bros.)

Even as the new movie "42" intends to teach new generations about Jackie Robinson, several organizations have been working for decades to burnish his legacy.

Major League Baseball annually observes Jackie Robinson Day on April 17 by giving all players the option of wearing jersey No. 42. It’s the only day of the year MLB players can don 42, because in 1997 the number was officially retired from all future use in honor of the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s debut for the Dodgers. (At the time No. 42 was retired, all players already using the number were permitted to continue doing so for the remainder of their careers. Today, only one of those players — New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera — remains active, and so Rivera will ostensibly be the last major leaguer to ever wear 42 on a daily basis.)

The Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Even though Robinson never played a game for them in California, the L.A. Dodgers claim Robinson as one of their own because he spent his entire 10-year career playing in Dodger blue. The Dodgers actively support several community outreach initiatives that honor Robinson; one of these is “Team 42,” a scholarship program the Dodgers co-sponsor in conjunction with the Jackie Robinson Foundation that his wife Rachel Robinson founded in 1973.

Atlanta Braves players line up before the start of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres in 2010, wearing No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. (Denis Poroy, AP) Atlanta Braves players line up before the start of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres in 2010, wearing No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. (Denis Poroy, AP)

“The Team 42 Scholarships are really a continuation of Jackie’s legacy,” said Renata Simril, senior vice president of external affairs for the L.A. Dodgers. “The program is more than just scholarships. It’s really a holistic program that identifies African-American college-bound students who are in high school, and it provides them with training throughout their collegiate career to make sure that underserved students are able to afford a college education and, equally important, are able to succeed while in college and get in the direction of a gainful career.”

At the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., interest in Jackie Robinson swells every April in conjunction with the observance of Jackie Robinson Day. Erik Strohl, the hall’s senior director of exhibitions and collections, believes that in order for fans to fully grasp the enormous stakes, it’s imperative to first remember the cultural climate of 1947.

“What (Robinson) did was really important to American culture because baseball was integrated before almost any other facet of American life,” Strohl said. “It was a great experiment, and we teach this when people come here. Had it failed, it could’ve been just as damaging to the civil rights movement as it (actually) was helpful.”

Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, so a large metal plaque with his likeness hangs alongside those of other enshrined players. But in addition to its on-site exhibits honoring Robinson, the hall also operates educational programs that teach students all over America about the iconic No. 42.

“Jackie Robinson is one of our most popular topics for schoolchildren,” Strohl said. “If they’re going to do a book report, we have pre-made packets that we send out to kids that request information because it’s such a popular topic. We also have different programs that teachers can go online and find out about, and we do long-distance learning (via video conference). …

“Despite the fact that the movie (‘42’) is really cool right now and it’s going to bring a lot of attention (to Jackie Robinson), this is a story we try to tell every day here in Cooperstown.”

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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