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April 14, 2016

Jackie Robinson Set the Stage

By Kenneth Jacobson

April 15 is the 69th anniversary of the entry of Jackie Robinson into the major leagues. To commemorate that historic event and that historic figure, PBS is running a new two-part documentary  looking at how this grandson of slaves rose from humble origins to integrate Major League Baseball.

In some ways, the story of Robinson and the integration of baseball is a little hard for us to understand in 2016. Society in general has come a long way: the civil rights revolution, the election of an African-American president, and the leading role that African-Americans play in our major American sports. And baseball no longer occupies a unique place as the national pastime that it held in the 1940s.


Still, in a year where major stories include numbers of cases of unarmed African-Americans killed by police, where the right to vote created by the 1965 Voting Rights Act is under attack, where the school to prison pipeline is in the news, the Jackie Robinson story has much to teach us.

In 1947, baseball was king in America. The fact that baseball had never allowed an African-American to participate in the major leagues was a blot on America’s reputation, but only one of many that characterized the country before the civil rights era.

Robinson was truly the harbinger of change in America.

His breakthrough on April 15, 1947, which was recognized as a huge step forward. It took place seven years before the landmark segregation case Brown vs. Board of Education and 17 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It started a process, which took years to ripen and which still is not over, of righting the great wrong of American history.

The great lesson of the Robinson experience is that while laws have the greatest impact in changing society, culture can set the stage and create a climate for the acceptance of new, more inclusive laws. We’ve seen that in our time with the legalization of gay marriage, which was preceded by a number of years of greater cultural acceptance of lesbian and gay people through television and the internet.

Back then, the emergence of Robinson, the first African-American major leaguer,  who handled  hostile fellow major leaguers and crowds with such grace and strength, to be followed over the next few years of other successful black major leaguers, helped to create a sense that African-Americans deserved to be treated like other Americans in our democratic society. It was not a revolution – it took years for the law to change – but it set the stage for the revolution.

Culture matters. How we teach our children, how the media portray various minorities, how our religious, business and political leaders speak about “the other” have a cumulative affect that culminates in a more equal society.

Nobody better represents this idea than Jackie Robinson.

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July 24, 2013

Foul Ball: Hate Speech, Twitter & Baseball

In the past week, the ability to spread hate about ethnic and religious minorities in real time has twice played out on Twitter in the context of baseball. ryan-braun-twitter-hate

After Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun was suspended from Major League Baseball for the remainder of this season for using performance enhancing drugs, some Twitter users responded by posting distinctly anti-Semitic messages.

Among the tweets that can be found when searching for Braun on Twitter are:

  • leave it to a jew to cheat the system, deceive people, then tarnish other’s reputations. Fuck you asshole
  • Ryan Braun jew’d us!
  • Ryan Braun didn’t make a mistake…he cheated, lied about it and than got caught…fuckin jew
  • Of course Ryan Braun was juiced out of his mind. How else could a Jew be that great at anything besides accounting

While anti-Semitic tweets about Braun did not start with his suspension, the recent tweets follow a barrage of racist tweets in response to singer Marc Antony’s singing “God Bless America” at Major League Baseball’s All-Star game in New York on July 16.

While Anthony is an American citizen of Puerto Rican descent, numerous offensive tweets made the rounds, saying  “shouldn’t an American be singing God Bless America?” and implying that Anthony is actually from Mexico or Cuba, generally asserting  anyone who is Latino in appearance is not inherently American.

ADL ardently supports the right to free speech, but believes that social media and other Internet sites also have an obligation to police their communities and confront those who promote anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of hate speech.

Twitter has no terms of service or community standards that address aggressive or malicious behavior on the service. Additionally, Twitter does not provide even the most basic “Flagging” mechanism for complaints which is widely used on the experienced platforms run by Google and Facebook.

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