Matt Welch on When Jackie Robinson Fought Back


Credit: Library of Congress

By now, even most non-baseball fans know the basic storyline of Jackie Robinson, the man who in 1947 broke through the color line of Major League Baseball. A gifted athlete, college man, and fierce competitor, Robinson was chosen to be first through the racial barrier in part because he was smart enough to heed Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey's instructions to greet the inevitable abuse by turning the other cheek. "I need a player with the courage not to fight back," Harrison Ford, playing Rickey, explains in the new film 42.

It's the movie's signature line, and the foundation upon which baseball has erected an unwieldy, self-congratulatory myth. But as Matt Welch explains, in our zeal to turn Jackie Robinson into Martin Luther King Jr., we are scrubbing from history his much longer career as baseball's Malcolm X—a righteously angry, relentlessly self-reliant activist and social critic.