|Jackie Robinson changed everything when he broke baseball's color line||.|
It might have been a fair point the guy raised when he wondered about my profession if he himself hadn’t been so utterly lacking in perspective.
It was years ago, when someone asked me what I did for a living and I replied that I was a sportswriter.
“That must be tough,” he said. And before I could answer he continued, “I mean every day you go somewhere and someone wins and someone loses and you tell the same story over and over. It must be tough to stay interested.”
I was dumbfounded because this comment came from a singer-songwriter (admittedly one I never did like) who, conceivably, made a living by singing the same songs over and over.
Such is the life of the sportswriter, putting up with many people’s perceived notions of sports. You’ve heard them all: a waste of time, opiate for the masses, rich men’s game, etc. etc.
Here’s one few bother to mention: Effective tool for social change.
As “42,” the biopic of Jackie Robinson, heads to theaters this weekend, it’s chance again to celebrate the bravery of the man who broke baseball’s color line. Many other upheavals in racial relations followed in the years to come, but it’s hard to imagine any of them happening if change hadn’t first come to baseball.
Yes, sports are fun and games sometimes but they have also been a key factor in civil rights and gender equality in this country. No doubt sports writers in 1947 and beyond realized they were watching much more than baseball; they had to know they were watching history.
And it was a sports writer who had started to beat the drum of equality in baseball a decade before. A man named Lester Rodney is sadly a footnote to history, most likely because he worked at a Communist
|Lester Rodney (Ray Rodney photo)|
“You go back and you read the great newspapers in the ’30s, you’ll find no editorials saying, ‘What’s going on here? This is America, land of the free and people with the wrong pigmentation of skin can’t play baseball?’ Nothing like that,” Rodney told writer Dave Zirin in 2004, five years before Rodney died at age 98. “No challenges to the league, to the commissioner, to league presidents, no interviewing the managers, no talking about Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson who were obviously of superstar caliber.”
|A victory off the court, too. (AP)|
I have a friend, a feminist who often writes on women’s issues. About 20 years ago, when I was covering women’s athletics, she admitted she knew nothing about sports and didn’t know what Title IX was.
“I’ll teach you,” I said, “because calling yourself a feminist and knowing nothing about sports is like calling yourself a Civil War scholar and knowing nothing about Abraham Lincoln.”
I was in a polyester uniform when sports for girls and women began to change in the 1970s, and courtside as they transformed in the 1980s and 1990s, as were many of my friends. Indeed I enjoyed covering women’s basketball because I had played it and enjoyed the sport, but there was something greater at work. I wasn’t just sitting courtside at basketball games; I had a close-up seat to history.
For many sportswriters who covered this stuff, that was a motivation to do it and to do it well, male or female writers. It wasn’t just the fun and games of it all – though it really was a fun way to make a living – but there was a greater good to it all sometimes. I understand why other women my age might have wanted to cover the NBA or NFL, but I did not. It was too exciting to be part of something that was growing, changing and creating opportunities where once none had been. I’m a history geek and I knew I was seeing it live.
I’m not saying sports writers deserve the credit for the social change that transpired under their watch. The bravery was all on the part of the participants, and I can only wonder what it would have been like for a Jackie Robinson or Billie Jean King in our toxic anonymous media-saturated culture. I wonder if they would have survived with their lives, Robinson in particular.
Now we're at a point where baseball worries about not having enough African-American ballplayers and girls walk around tall and proud in their letter jackets and sweatpants; that says everything about how sports has made a difference in who we are as a nation.
Anyone who thinks differently is just singing the wrong tune.