Every year on April 15, at ballparks across the country, young baseball fans will look down at the field and notice something different. Each and every member of both teams wearing the same number on the backs of their jerseys. Inevitably, those who do not know the reason will ask, ‘Why is every player wearing the number 42?”
Perhaps this year, the question will have already been answered.
With the feature film “42” opening in theaters nationwide last weekend, the story of Jackie Robinson has taken center stage. His stellar, 10-year, Hall-of-Fame career transcended the field of play, impacting society in a way that no other athlete has in recent memory. Deservedly, Jackie Robinson’s iconic number 42 jersey is the only one retired across the game of baseball.
“I see him as transformative, the way that he continued to advocate outside of baseball,” said Kendra Gaither, a volunteer and chair of the Mid-Atlantic Scholar Advisory Committee of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. “The integration of baseball and the transformation that Jackie Robinson helped to bring about in baseball was really a larger measurement of what was happening in our own society. That’s why I think the story of Jackie Robinson continues to grow.”
Gaither brought a group of scholars to the Nationals-Braves game on Saturday, after which they departed for a screening of the film. While the Nationals unfortunately do not play at home on Monday, they honored Robinson Saturday and will do so again on the road in Miami, as the entire sport dons Robinson’s 42 for tonight’s games.
The Nationals own Bryce Harper, a proud student of the game’s history, has listed Robinson as one of his personal heroes. Harper, of course, took home the Jackie Robinson Award as the top rookie in the National League last season. The award was named after Robinson, who won it himself in 1947, overcoming immense social and cultural pressures to help lead the Brooklyn Dodgers all the way to the World Series in his very first season.
“It’s incredibly moving to see all the players wearing 42,” said Gaither, who has taken part in Jackie Robinson Day at Nationals Park for the past two seasons. “To be able to come to Nationals Park and see how much it also means to the players and the fans that are here, it’s incredibly inspiring.”
The Jackie Robinson Foundation was founded by Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, and has thrived for over 40 years, helping more than 1,400 students with a better than 99 percent graduation rate. To learn more about the Jackie Robinson foundation, please visit www.jackierobinson.org.