HEBER CITY — The kids walked past, in single file, to shake the hand of history. When a blond named Justice introduced herself, Sharon Robinson said, “I hope you understand that well.”
This is how justice should always be served: on wings.
Jackie Robinson’s daughter was at Rocky Mountain Middle School in Wasatch County, Tuesday, to honor the work of eighth-grader Drew Becker. Becker had his face mauled by a dog a year ago and recounted his recovery through Major League Baseball’s Breaking Barriers Essay Contest.
“I feel blessed to come to this incredible valley, with its snow-capped mountains,” Robinson said. “It can’t get any better than that.”
Even as Robinson addressed students on facing fears, the National Basketball Association was facing its own, in the form of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Racist remarks, attributed to him, shocked and disheartened the widely integrated league. At the start of last season there were 92 foreign players from 39 countries.
But in a recorded rant that an NBA investigation claims was Sterling, he berated a girlfriend for snapping pictures and appearing in public with African-Americans such as hall-of-famer Magic Johnson.
That’s the kind of thing Jackie Robinson dealt with daily when he broke the Major League color barrier in 1947. Sharon was only 6 when her father retired. But both then and afterward, her parents taught by example. There were no slogans on her walls, she says, or formal directives. Rather, it was the day-to-day dignity of their lives.
“I remember both my parents; it’s where I get my own strength from,” she said. Her father died when she was 22. Her brother was killed in a car accident at age 24. Six months ago, her son Jesse passed away at 34.
“I had to go from the bottom of that valley — he was my only child — to rebuilding a new life, with him being always in my heart,” she said before the class began. “So we never stop having obstacles.”
Robinson told students that when fans called her father names, he “would stay really focused on the job at the moment.” He didn’t have time for bullies or bigots, and neither should students today, she said.
Breaking barriers was the theme of the visit. Becker’s award-winning essay spoke of a friend’s dog attacking him in the school parking lot, requiring more than 90 stitches and subsequent surgery. Though it provoked a fear of dogs, he began walking his neighbor’s dog once a week. By gathering donated materials, he built a storage shed for the town’s animal shelter, as part of his Eagle Scout project.
Not coincidentally, he constructed the shed outside the cages where dogs were kept and asked his friend, whose family owned the attacking dog, to assist.
“I still wanted to be friends with him so I asked for his help,” he wrote.
“Not only did I overcome my fear of dogs,” he added, “I was able to contribute to my community.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon the NBA announced its sanctions on Sterling, fining him $2.5 million and banning him for life. The league said it will attempt to force him to sell the team.
Celebrities, athletes and even President Obama weighed in earlier this week, with emotions ranging from disappointment to outrage and disgust.
Asked how her father would have handled such a situation, Robinson gently but firmly said, “He wouldn’t have shied away from any challenge, and Donald Sterling is just a challenge. We have to understand history, because history is cyclical. My father breaking the color barrier did not eliminate racism in America. So it’s something we need to continue to deal with and be up front about and face it.”
A dog attacked a child outside his school, last year, yet Drew Becker met the repercussions with courage. Sharon Robinson discussed both her son’s death and Sterling’s behavior with grace and conviction.
“Dad loved young people,” she said, “but I believe he is smiling down and knowing how many kids are learning from his life. He was a very humble man. He was surprised when he was getting standing ovations. So to think, 67 years later, of him still being an important American figure, he must be very humbled.”
High in a mountain valley, justice seemed to be taking flight.
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