Like the new movie, “42” about Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947, the United States Sports Academy over the years has also paid tribute to the Hall of Famer who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Warner Brothers’ movie, which was No. 1release in the nation in its opening weekend earning $27.4 million, has introduced the late Robinson to a whole host of new fans and the Academy has helped to keep his inspiring spirit alive.
In fact, Robinson’s widow, Rachel, who is now 90-years-old, says in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that she felt a movie about her husband needed to happen since new generations remember little from the civil rights era. Her husband died in 1972 at the age of 53.
“I was getting older, and I really wanted kids to know who Jack was and to think about what they can do with their own lives,” said Robinson, who had script approval on “42.”
In February 1988, Rachel Robinson travelled to the Academy’s campus in Daphne, Ala., to celebrate the unveiling of the Jackie Robinson Humanitarian Award. London sculptor John Robinson created the Medallion for the award. The first Humanitarian Award went to Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer Joe Morgan for his work with youth. It has been given annually since then to honor those in sports who promote human welfare and social reform.
The Academy’s criteria for the award reads in part: “Jack Roosevelt Robinson broke the baseball color barrier by displaying his skills, while at the same time subjugating his pride, to prove an awareness of our failings as well as his abilities. Had he lacked the discipline, not to mention the dedication, America and sport would be spiritually and athletically poorer.”
The Humanitarian Award named after Robinson is one of more than a dozen awards the Academy, a preeminent sports university, has given since 1984 to celebrate significant achievements in sports.
Alabama’s largest work of public art—a mural that stands 27-feet (two stories) high and 12-feet wide—is located on the face of the Academy’s main building. The mural entitled, “A Tribute to the Human Spirit” was painted in 1997 by renowned Spanish artist Cristóbal Gabarrón to honor the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in professional baseball and to celebrate the Academy’s 25th anniversary. It is seen by millions every year as they pass by the sports university along U.S. Highway 98.
Gabarrón, the Academy’s 1992 Sport Artist of the Year, stated in an interpretation of the vibrant colored mural he painted that Jackie Robinson exemplified the “most exalted and universal values found in sport: dedication, sacrifice, solidarity, teamwork, friendship…all of which contribute to the common goal of success.”
The face of Robinson, who is depicted swinging at the plate, is half black and half white to signify the promise of racial harmony that sport provides, Gabarrón explained.
Each year, Major League Baseball (MLB) celebrates Jackie Robinson’s legacy on April 15, which is when Robinson played his first game as a first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. The league retired his number throughout the league in 1997 and has dedicated April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day each year since 2004. In 2009, MLB requested that every player and all on-field personnel wear his Number 42 during games scheduled on April 15.
Rachel Robinson told the L.A. Times that instead of becoming angry at all of the racism her husband endured, they turned to laughter, which was their “survival mechanism.”
“Sometimes people attribute Jack’s actions to anger. He was very careful in the management of his anger, mostly because he didn’t want to spoil the opportunity or stop the experiment from moving forward,” Robinson said. “When he played, he was assertive. But all too often people equate assertiveness on the part of black males as anger and aggression, and that wasn’t Jack.”
The public is welcome to enjoy the Jackie Robinson Humanitarian Award medallion and “A Tribute to the Human Spirit” mural of Robinson at the Academy’s American Sport Art Museum & Archives (ASAMA) for free from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.