Jesus, this blog is a shit show. I had a Black History Month post all ready to go, I was gonna put it up yesterday and then, boom, nothing. We had to go and talk about Penn State AGAIN. Sorry about that, folks. Let's make up for it now.
You see, every sports network likes to throw up something for BHM, and they all just like to talk about Jackie and then get back to, I dunno, talking about who's the Most Now or whatever retardery ESPN is getting into this week. And I hate that. There's a lot other interesting people to look at. Crusaders like Arthur Ashe. People who held real power, like Wayne Embry, the first black NBA exec. Trailblazers in leagues that are still grappling with integration (Aren't we all?) Like Willie O'Ree in the NHL*. Or hell, the history of blacks in NFL, from the their sporadic numbers in the early century to the de facto color line in the 30s and 40s through the Rooney Rule today (boy howdy, are we going to get into the Rooney rule sometime).
*- O'Ree really fascinates me because he played for the Bruins, right around the time the Red Sox were finally giving in on integration. Boston remained a hotbed of racial tension until the 80s, but there he was, before Pumpsie Green, even.
But the fact is, baseball is my area of expertise, so...yeah, I have something to say about Jackie.
The legend goes that everyone- Branch Rickey, the Dodgers, Jackie Robinson himself- knew that Robinson was not the best African American baseball player in the country. But, he had the best temperament, the best demeanor. He was the one deemed most capable of dealing with the pressure- and yes, outright HATE- of being the First African American in Major League Baseball.
From everything I've read, this is true. And demeanor is important. Not because of bullshit like Derek Jeter's "intangible leadership qualities" or whatever, but because a proper demeanor is what turns raw talent into tangible accomplishments. I would say the big difference between Michael Jordan and Lebron James is demeanor. So, I don't want to dismiss Jackie's incredible demeanor.
But our constant focus on it is still horseshit.
Because here's the thing, if Jackie Robinson wasn't the best African American player, he was still REALLY FREAKIN' GOOD. His career slash line was .311/.409/.474. Six time All-Star. 197 stolen bases. That's a damn good career, regardless of the background.
I think all the talk of "he wasn't the BEST, but..." ends up just diminishing Jackie. It's not intentionally racial, it's more about the fundamental bias of sportswriters in favor of "character" and "leadership" and, again, "intangibles". But the effect is the same- it makes Jackie Robinson sound a bit more like an Affirmative Action hire rather than the legitimate Hall of Famer he is.