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Disabato: Southland youth baseball players inspired by ‘42’

Chadwick Boseman plays baseball legend Jackie Robins'42'. | AP photo

Chadwick Boseman plays baseball legend Jackie Robinson in "42". | AP photo

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Updated: May 20, 2013 6:14AM



I wonder if Jackie Robinson ever imagined some 66 years after he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball that his courageous story would continue to inspire people.

That because of the way he handled bigotry and ignorance — with dignity and grace — he would be looked up to by generations long after his death in 1972.

Let’s be clear: Robinson is an American hero whose impact exceeded sports — it was a major step in the civil rights revolution in America.

The movie “42,” which primarily focuses on Robinson’s first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, brings his story to light for a new generation.

I was invited by the White Sox to a private screening of “42” on Saturday, along with players from their ACE (Amateur City Elite) and RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner City) programs.

The White Sox, who host the Double Duty Classic High School All-Star Game as a way to honor the Negro League, in which Robinson once played, are at the forefront of reviving baseball in the African-American community.

I won’t pretend to be a movie critic, but I wish “42” would have delved deeper into Jackie Robinson the man and his career. I would have liked it to show how Robinson was a four-sport varsity letter winner at UCLA. How he became the first black to win the National League MVP in 1949. How he played in six World Series and helped the Dodgers to the 1955 world championship. How he scored 100 runs in six of his 10 seasons.

And why he supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential race over John F. Kennedy.

That said, whether you’re black or white, old or young, male or female, “42” hits a home run in its effort to educate and entertain — albeit in a compact time frame. The baseball scenes alone are exquisite.

“We felt it was necessary to provide an opportunity for our kids to see this movie,” said Kevin Coe, manager of youth baseball initiatives for the White Sox. “It gives them an opportunity to learn more about Jackie Robinson.”

And learn these young men did.

It’s one thing to read words off a written page about Robinson. It’s quite another to hear the vitriol in a theater, such as in “42.”

These were different times, friends, filled with intolerant, vicious bigots.

The kids from the ACE and RBI programs saw how Robinson’s Dodgers teammates, many of them good ol’ Southern boys, signed a petition to have him kicked off the team. They watched Robinson get booed unmercifully from the stands and saw opposing pitchers take great joy in beaning him.

Just because of the color of the man’s skin.

The theater was quiet for much of the film, and I’m certain tears were being wiped away on more than one occasion. The movie offers inspiring moments, sad moments, moments that fill you with anger and as a Caucasian, moments of embarrassment.

“I didn’t know it was that bad,” said Corey Stallings, a 14-year-old resident of Richton Park. “It’s good for us to see what he had to go through and we should keep it in the back of our mind what he went through every time we step to the plate.”

There was one particular scene in which Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman, played by actor Alan Tudyk, goes to great length antagonizing Robinson, who is batting, with the “N-word.”

It’s a scene that made me want to leap on to the screen and punch Chapman.

Imagine how Robinson felt.

Robinson, played by actor Chadwick Boseman, keeps his emotions in check. It wasn’t until after the at-bat, when he walks into the dugout tunnel and smashes his bat, that he finally reaches his boiling point.

“The intensity of the racism — I didn’t think it was that bad back then,” said Roger Anderson, a 14-year-old student enrolled at Morgan Park High School. “I was upset and surprised. I’m grateful I can play without worrying about things like segregation and racism.”

Korry Howell, a freshman at Homewood-Flossmoor, equally was shocked.

“I didn’t know they were calling him names while he was at-bat,” Howell said. “My temper is very short. I don’t think I could have done what he did. He went through all of that so kids like us can play. Seeing this movie makes me want to try and go out and play as hard as he did everyday.”

Barek McCann, an eighth-grader at Cornerstone Christian School in South Chicago Heights, had a different perspective watching that scene.

“I would pray that God would forgive those people,” McCann said. “Jackie Robinson had it really, really tough. This movie inspires me to work harder. It can inspire people who don’t even play baseball.”

Yes, it can.



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