THE BLOG
01/20/2012 09:42 am ET | Updated Mar 21, 2012

Desegregation in Sports

Earlier this week, we reflected on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. This iconic figure is, was, and is still a figurehead of civil rights around the globe. Dr. King taught us how to make change in a nonviolent, peaceful way; how to break barriers without hurting one another. But now let's talk about a different kind of peaceful protest: desegregating sports.

One of the most notable athletes to do this is Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the MLB. On a crisp April day in 1947, he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His first league game drew 14,000 African American audience members, he was a symbol of hope in the days before bus boycotts and freedom riders.

Of course, his transition into the MLB did not come without problems. We have hecklers today at sporting events -- imagine ones that are yelling at just you because of the color of your skin, something Robinson had to endure. The racial epithets were concentrated on just him in 1947 -- he was the only black player in the league. Verbal abuse was just the beginning for him, and other players launched physical attacks on Robinson for playing in the league.

His teammate Pee Wee Reese probably said it best, "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them." Arguably, Robinson turned this hate into a hall of fame career. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1947 and won the World Series in 1955. Robinson rose above the oppression, and made a name for himself that will be remembered forever.

Sometimes, sports can tell us the history of a time period better than a textbook can. We can look to the story of Jackie Robinson to really understand the oppression people faced in the 1950s.