Thank you, Jackie Robinson

42.This is one of the most important numbers ever worn in sports.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson wore it when he stepped onto the baseball diamond for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Robinson became the first black man to play Major League Baseball in the modern era.

It was no easy task, though. Actually, it took a man of extraordinary character and talent. It took a man who could put the needs of an entire country before his own.

At the time, America was culturally divided. Though racism is still evident in society today, it shies in comparison to the indecencies of the mid-20th century.

We were a country where blacks and whites could not even use the same bathroom, so playing on the same professional team was unspeakable.

Because I am only 21 years old, I have never truly had to witness a cultural divide in professional sports.

When I watched games, I paid no attention to the race of the players. I saw only their talents on the field and their actions off.

I judged players not on the color of their skin but by the man inside. I have Jackie Robinson to thank for that.

Sure, he was only a baseball player. He did not speak before thousands of people like Martin Luther King Jr. did, nor­­ did his actions spark movements like Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

However, his struggle to break the color line in baseball helped fuel the Civil Rights movement just as much as any of the other well-known figures of the time.

Baseball, after all, was America’s pastime. It would be hard for Jackie’s accomplishments to go unnoticed. It would be just as hard not to see how well he handled criticism and abuse, both verbally and physically.

You see, when Jackie agreed to be the Guinea pig for integration, the Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey, challenged him.

Rickey told Jackie that he would be booed, laughed at, cursed and hit by pitchers. Rickey said no matter what, though, Robinson could not fight back.

He had to prove he was better than that. He had to prove black players were not inferior to white players.

That is exactly what happened, too. Jackie was pushed to the edge of mental breakdowns at times, but never did he fight back.

Instead, he smiled, slowly stood taller after each fall, and changed baseball forever. Throughout the season, hate turned to admiration.

People began to sympathize with him. For every racist remark and bean ball, he gained one more fan. It takes a real man to deal with such heinous acts yet turn the other cheek.

It takes a hero. Jackie Robinson is not just baseball’s hero. He is America’s hero.

In his first year in the Big Leagues, Jackie won the Rookie of the Year Award and led his team to the World Series. He won several of baseball’s most prestigious awards and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

In 1997, the MLB universally retired his jersey. He was the first athlete to be so honored.

For the past nine years, every player in the MLB wears No. 42 on April 15 for Jackie Robinson Day.

Jackie was a great baseball player. He was an exceptional man. He was a hero for America.

Thank you, Jackie Robinson.

Column by Ryan Richardson, Sports Editor.