The World According to Jackie

"Jackie Robinson's impact was greater than just that of baseball. He was a transforming agent and in the face of such hostility and such meanness and violence, he did it with such amazing dignity. He had to set the course for the country." - The Rev. Jesse Jackson

Sometime between the events of Martin Luther King, Jr. day and the beginning of Black History Month, it seems the entire country simply overlooked the birthday of an African-American that is arguably one of the most important figures of the past 100 years.

January 31st would have been the 83rd birthday of Jackie Robinson and there was nary a word mentioned. I read no newspaper articles nor saw any coverage on ESPN. If not for a sports calendar given to me for Christmas, I, too, would have overlooked this day.

When you watch Sportscenter these days, you simply take for granted the diversity that currently exists in professional sports.

Less than 60 years ago, this wouldn't have been possible.

When Jackie Robinson was selected by Brooklyn Dodger owner Branch Rickey to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, it forever changed not just the sports landscape, but also the national landscape.

Major League Baseball was, and still is, the national pastime, and having an African-American play, and excel, was a big step for civil rights.

Every African-American and international professional athlete is playing today because of the courage, class, and talent of Jackie Robinson. It's hard to believe his birthday passed without a peep. When you consider the life of this man, one day for reflection doesn't seem too much to ask.

Jackie Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, a year before the military was desegregated and seven years before the desegregation of public schools. He excelled from the start, winning the Rookie of the Year award (which is now named after him) while playing out of position at first base. In the following years, he moved to second base to play alongside Brooklyn great (and native Kentuckian) Pee Wee Reese. He came into his own during his third season, winning the MVP while leading the league in batting average and steals. He retired at the age of 37 with a lifetime batting average of .311, and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He died in 1972 at the age of 53.

I am not suggesting we have a national holiday in honor of Jackie Robinson. I am not even sure what department of the government you contact to get a national holiday started. Instead, I would like to see Major League Baseball have a Jackie Robinson Day. In 1997, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first season, every team retired the number he wore: 42. From Wrigley Field to Dodger Stadium, 42 hangs alongside every other retired number from that team. I believe there needs to be an annual re-dedication of the retirement.

One day set aside to honor the life of one of the most important baseball players in history.

One day recognized across the sports world as Jackie Robinson Day at the ballpark.

I would suggest this particular game be played during the summer months, when school is out, so free tickets could be given to local children's groups. The players could wear vintage Negro League uniforms in honor of the league where Jackie Robinson and other African-American baseball stars began their careers.

Before the first pitch, someone from the community, or one of the players themselves, could read a brief history of Jackie Robinson's career, and give some insight into how this impacted not just baseball, but the entire country. Such a presentation would keep the memory of this great man alive, and also educate those who may not be familiar with his importance.

There are many men and women whose accomplishments, no matter how great, are overlooked by history and the public. We should not let Jackie Robinson be one of those people. Celebrating his career every 50 years is not nearly enough. Jackie Robinson was more than a great baseball player, he was a great man. How can you doubt that from a man who believes, "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."

As teachers across America begin their lesson plans for Black History Month, perhaps it is time to start a day early and include his birthday.

Then, hopefully, one lazy summer afternoon, we can all head to the ballpark for a game and a history lesson.