Maybe The Best Reason To Remember April 15…Number 42

jackie-robinson

A lot has happened on April 15.

Leonardo De Vinci was born…Abraham Lincoln died…Apollo 13 had the accident that almost destroyed it, but that triggered one of the great triumphs of the space program…Lee surrendered, ending the Civil WarThe Beatles disbanded…I didn’t get my taxes in on time….

I would argue however, and will, that as culturally important as any of these events was that sixty-eight years ago, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball in the modern era. This represented a cultural change that allowed the United States to take a giant step forward toward healing the self-inflicted and almost fatal wound of slavery, and it took a man of surpassing courage and character to do it. (Two men, really: the other was Dodgers GM Branch Rickey.)

Today all MLB players will wear Robinson’s number 42 to honor him. If you haven’t seen the movie “42, or if your children haven’t seen it, this is a good day to get a sense of what Jackie went through as he broke the color line.  You can check out Robinson’s baseball stats here,  and learn about the civil rights work he did after his playing career, in the too-short life that was left to him here. He’s in the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, of course, and his entry there has more about his life as well as some good links.

The main thing is, remember him.

Many years ago, I had a conversation with a close friend—smart, accomplished, engaged, educated, about 26 years old at the time. She had no idea who Jackie Robinson was. Nobody, then, now or ever, should reach adulthood in the United States without knowing and understanding what Robinson did, and our nation’s debt to him. There is an ethical  duty to remember, and to respect.

Thank you, Mr. Robinson.

Thank you.

 

Michael Sam Flunks Trailblazer Ethics, And Many Will Suffer Because Of It

Sam kiss

The most charitable explanation for Michael Sam’s disastrous performance in the wake of the NFL draft is that he’s a young man who got terrible advice. A less charitable theory is that he’s an idiot. The worst theory of all is that Michael Sam is less interested in being the first openly gay pro-football player who blazes a clear path for those who follow him, and more concerned about becoming a gay icon, or worse, a martyr. Whatever the reason, Sam accepted the massive responsibility of being a cultural trailblazer, and fumbled the ball.

Sam wasn’t the best player in the NFL draft, but everyone knew, including Sam, that he would be the most closely watched. He had “come out” as gay soon after the college football season, and in light of his prominence and recognition as a stand-out athlete, his honesty and openness about his sexual orientation was hailed as a cultural turning point, an advance for gay Americans, and a test for the macho NFL. Would he be drafted? If he wasn’t (or was?), would it be because he was gay? ESPN’s cameras were in the Missouri defensive end’s home Saturday as the drafts neared its final stages with Sam name still uncalled. When St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher called Sam at his agent’s house in San Diego to tell the former University of Missouri defensive lineman that they had selected him in the seventh and last round of the draft, it was instant drama.

There was more drama, in fact, than ESPN and viewers probably expected. Sam burst into tears while receiving the call, and then received an emotional, mouth-t0-mouth kiss from his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Actually, there is; several, in fact. To begin with, Sam had violated the Second Niggardly Principle, which states,

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

A clearer example of the SNP would be hard to find. No doubt about it, most heterosexual Americans, which means most of the public, are not used to seeing adult men kissing each other on the lips. There is no question that Sam knows this: of course he does. Even now, popular culture uses the image for shock value; it was only the 90’s when an impulsive lip-lock from Kramer on Jerry drove the studio audience to screams of laughter. No, there’s nothing “wrong” with two men kissing each other, but an awful lot of people were raised to think it is unnatural, and it is wrong to intentionally or negligently offend or upset them gratuitously. It is the flip side of tolerance: consideration and etiquette. Causing discomfort just because you can, or because your targets “deserve” or “need” to feel uncomfortable is just trouble-making for the hell of it. “Deal with it!” is confrontational and aimed at creating rancor, not comity. Continue reading

Today is Jackie Robinson’s birthday. He would be 94, but he lived only slightly more than half that long. He was one of our greatest ethics heroes, and I’d like to honor Mr. Robinson by reblogging a post from April 16 of last year.

Ethics Alarms

Yesterday, the media, history buffs and Kate Winslet fans were obsessed with remembering the Titanic, sometimes even with proper reverence to the 1500 men, women and children who lost their lives in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. A strong argument could be made, however, that the most significant event that occurred on April 15 took place in 1947, in Brooklyn, New York. For that was the day that Jackie Robinson ran out to his position at first base as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and became the first African- American to play baseball in the Major Leagues since the earliest years of the game.

With that act, and his epic heroism for the rest of the season, Robinson changed baseball, sports, American society and history. It was a cultural watershed in a nation that had been virtually apartheid since the end of the Civil War, a catalytic…

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Ethics Hero Emeritus: Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)

Yesterday, the media, history buffs and Kate Winslet fans were obsessed with remembering the Titanic, sometimes even with proper reverence to the 1500 men, women and children who lost their lives in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. A strong argument could be made, however, that the most significant event that occurred on April 15 took place in 1947, in Brooklyn, New York. For that was the day that Jackie Robinson ran out to his position at first base as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and became the first African- American to play baseball in the Major Leagues since the earliest years of the game.

With that act, and his epic heroism for the rest of the season, Robinson changed baseball, sports, American society and history. It was a cultural watershed in a nation that had been virtually apartheid since the end of the Civil War, a catalytic moment that served notice that racism was no longer the future of America. Robinson’s dramatic debut in 1947 was more than a year before President Harry Truman desegregated the military, and seven years before the Supreme Court ruled that “separate is inherently unequal” in declaring public school segregation unconstitutional. Further down a difficult road that has not ended yet were the crusade of Rev. Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Act, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, but it was Jackie Robinson who led the way.

And no one should ever think that he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t merely the opportunity. It was him. Continue reading

Baseball and Civil Rights: Doing the Right Thing, Kicking and Screaming

“The Biz of Baseball” discusses a historical document proving that even as Jackie Robinson was preparing to make his color barrier-shattering debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, an internal committee examining the race issue for Major League Baseball was arguing that integrating the teams at the time would be a mistake. Author Maury Brown concludes:

“As the 1946 steering committee document shows, there were those at the highest level of the sport that saw African-American players as beneath the quality of their White counterparts, and that they saw the influx of African-American fans as something that would lower franchise values. Take that in, as baseball takes credit for being at the front of the Civil Rights movement.”

Major League Baseball is engaged in just such a credit-taking exercise now, as it prepares to host its annual ” Civil Rights Game, “an  exhibition between the Cardinals and Reds in Cincinnati. Continue reading