It was an emotional day in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 15, when a Dodgers-Padres matchup was displaced in importance by a significant and powerful celebration of the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's entrance into the MLB, opening the golden gates for black baseball players forever.
Looking back at the day - and at Robinson's career - it's easy to lament the lack of these kinds of effervescent heroes in the sports world today. But just as Robinson's story represents a moral and human victory and a step forward for our country, it should also serve as a reminder that these kinds of people do in fact still exist in sports, despite all the attention going to steroid-enhanced biceps and gambling rings.
Robinson was more than just a baseball player. He served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and fought against Jim Crow laws by refusing to give up his seat on a military bus more than a decade before Rosa Parks became famous for doing so on a public bus. Despite facing racial injustice and social degradation courtesy of both opponents and teammates in his first season as a Dodger, he led the National League in stolen bases and won the first ever Rookie of the Year award. That was only the first of 10 glorious seasons for Robinson, all with the Dodgers.
You could write an Academy Award-winning screenplay about Robinson's life. But those who think that all the athletes in today's world are cold, money-hungry oafs are sadly misinformed. Two recently-retired athletes come to mind that mirrored their exemplary athletic accomplishments with honorable acts of charity and community service - former NHL forward Adam Graves and former quarterback Doug Flutie.
Graves has two Stanley Cup rings but enough goodwill and charity awards to fill a small bedroom. Among them are a King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1994 for charity work and humanitarian contributions to his community, the "Crumb Bum" award in 1993 for services to New York youngsters, and recognition in 2000 by The Sporting News as one of four athletes in all of professional sports to excel in community service.
Flutie is known more than most other professional athletes because of the overwhelming success of his contributions, the biggest being the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. In honor of his autistic son, the foundation has raised money for autistic children for the last nine years through a donor-advised fund and corporate donations. His cereal, Flutie Flakes, also benefitted the organization.
Most of today's athletes don't face the adversity that Robinson had to deal with. They are portrayed as pedestal-perching egomaniacs, and too often the media echoes this sentiment, an unfortunate decision, especially when people like Graves and Flutie recognize their prominent positions and utilize it to benefit others. They aren't the only ones; perhaps someday one of these individuals will be deemed more newsworthy than the next performance-enhanced scandal, and we won't have to look back 60 years to celebrate the last great role model in sports.