The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

April 8, 2013

Film recalls one of baseball’s greatest days

I don’t like most sports movies.

Since most actors are not athletes, and likewise most athletes are not actors, both the on- and off-field performances in sports movies are generally tepid and occasionally embarrassing.

Besides, most sports movies purport to be true representations of the lives of famous athletes or of unforgettable sports moments.

But those “true” sports films generally aren’t true at all. Screenwriters and directors tend to change details to make the athletes or memorable moments even more dramatic.

Thus, these fact-based films generally devolve quickly into mawkish fiction.

My favorite sports movies are those that have little or no connection with reality, like “The Natural,” and “Field of Dreams.”

The last sports film I watched was “It Happens Every Spring,” the 1949 farce in which Ray Milland plays a college professor who accidentally invents a chemical that causes anything it touches to be repelled by wood. Said professor quickly learns that a baseball soaked in the stuff cannot be struck by a wooden bat, and he thus becomes the ace pitcher for a big league team and leads them to a world series title. It couldn’t happen, of course, but I swear sometimes it seems the Cubs soak their bats in the stuff.

A new sports movie comes out this Friday, “42” a new take on the life and times of one Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the first black player to break the major league color barrier.

Robinson’s widow, Rachel, who looks remarkable at age 90, gave her blessings to the film, which centers on the events surrounding his joining the Brooklyn Dodgers April 15, 1947, thus changing the face of sports in America forever.

Parts of the film will be difficult to watch, as Chadwick Boseman, the actor portraying the young Robinson, is subjected to a deluge of racial epithets from fans and opponents alike.

Filmgoers will squirm in their seats at the sounds of words common in the late 1940s, but rarely uttered or written today. But, undoubtedly what Robinson endured was far worse than any movie could portray.

Every time he took the field that first season, Jackie Robinson was hated, not because of his considerable skills, but because he was a black man. He was hated by fans at home and on the road, and by players in both dugouts.

 Imagine every racial slur you have ever heard or read. Now double it, and add hate letters and death threats, baserunners trying to gash him with their spikes and pitchers throwing at his head and legs. Every day when Robinson stepped onto the field he didn’t know if he would live to step off it. He never knew if one of those leather-lunged crackers in the stands had a gun in his pocket.

And that was on the field. Off it, he often couldn’t ride in the same train cars, stay in the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants as his teammates.

And he bit back his anger, allowed it to fuel his performance on the field. He played through the hate and ignorance, and he triumphed.

Jackie Robinson didn’t only change baseball, he represented an important step on the long, painful road to realizing the principle expressed by Pee Wee Reese, a southern white ballplayer who embraced Robinson and once famously said, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.”

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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