Jackie Robinson is the reason why myself, and so many others are able to get a foot in the proverbial door of the sports world. Robinson so transcends the world of just baseball and sports as a whole, he represents the possibility of hope through self confidence and determination.
On this very special and unique Jackie Robinson Day, I had the privilege of being in the audience for day two of the Diversity Business Summit, to hear from Commissioner Bud Selig–the man who made this day a veritable holiday, which is why April 15, 1947 is so special.
Day two of the Diversity Business Summit started off with some wise words from some very wise men, a panel which included Hal Steinbrenner (Yankees owner), Stuart Sternberg (Rays owner) and Tom Ricketts (Chairman of the Cubs) all offered up tips to crowd of aspiring MLB employees. The overall message was a mixed one–exude confidence over cockiness (as Steinbrenner noted) and bring good products and ideas to the table to get your point across.
The topic of how to get more African Americans, in particular, back in the game was a prevailing theme of the Summit and one which needs tackling. But you will find that there is no easy black and white answer, as Sternberg alluded to the issue of lack of African Americans is deeply rooted–one can even cite the lack of father figures in the community as a reason why the game isn’t being passed down. Baseball is generally introduced to youngsters as a game of catch and if no one is around to play, how can you expect that same black youth to cultivate a love of baseball early on? It’s points like that which make you understand that while strides are being made there’s much more internal work to do.
The day was of course all about Jackie Robinson and his legacy, rain postponed the Yankees vs Cubs game to Wednesday so all festivities including a tribute to Nelson Mandala and the unveiling of his plaque will be broadcasted Wednesday. The closing of the Summit was headlined by Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, who presented a plaque to Selig with the number ’42’ in Dodger blue.
An emotional Sharon Robinson gave tribute to Selig for being a constant driver of diversity in the sport and for paying homage to her father on an annual basis. After a very impassioned speech by the Commissioner the floor opened for questions and I used the opportunity to ask Selig if he thinks the groundwork has been laid to continue the emphasis and spirit of diversity when his tenure is officially over. Without hesitation he confidentially reassured the masses that the game will never give up on diversity and will always work tirelessly to continue Jackie’s legacy.
Whatever your opinion on Selig, there’s no arguing that he has always made it his mission to go above and beyond to embrace that same message Branch Rickey set forth in 1947–making the pastime true to its form and including all, on and off the field.
My two days spent at the Diversity Business Summit were ones which were extremely impactful both professionally and personally. Everyone left with a grand sense of achievement and fulfillment. The opportunity of a lifetime was put right in front of us and now it is up to us to seal the deal.
Jackie Robinson knocked down the barriers, but now it up to us and future generations to make sure those barriers stay down.