From Howard Bryant at ESPN.com on April 12, 2016:
Although born from good intentions, the idea of Jackie Robinson the saint is a convenient, unfortunate concoction. It is true enough that Robinson changed America, and in turn, America changed with him. His image and name rests on awards and on stamps, on highways and schools, and in his sport, no player on any team will ever wear his number 42 again, except during the one game later this week, when every player, coach and umpire in the majors wears it.
The simple language at the root of his legend — Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier — sounds good and permanent and important, uncomplicated both for grade schoolers and adults alike, and the triumphant tone is consistent with America’s enduring need for hope.
Yet even that is a concoction. At best, it is a fantasy discouraging the deeper, more painful excavation of the barriers he couldn’t break and why, the ones society did not lower but strengthened because of the threat of his presence. At worst, it is a simplistic and corrosive lie designed to keep America from itself, to keep it from what it is, which is a nation far more comfortable with always being the good guy, always preferring the fairy tale to the truth.
The real Robinson, whole and unsanitized, was constantly human, competitive, flawed and pained, honorably naïve but always in determined opposition to the obstacles that prevented him from fulfilling a quest still unrealized some 44 years after his death: full partnership in the American dream for African-Americans. The real Robinson lives beautifully and heroically, inside a confectionary lie that his sainthood was something given by a redeemed America rather than taken from a resistant one.
Originally published: April 13, 2016. Last Updated: April 13, 2016.