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JACKIE ROBINSON When Robinson took the field with the Dodgers for the first time on April 12 1947 America was wallowing in apartheid A year before Robinsons breakthrough Major League Baseball had conducted a secret study of the impact of allowing black athletes to play the national game It concluded that integrating the teams would not only offend white sensibilities but also lower the standard of play Maybe someday when blacks were ready baseball could take the risk How familiar these arguments sound a half-century later in the debate over affirmative action Its not remarked on much these days but Robinson was the product of a unique brand of preferential treatment He was not the best ballplayer the Negro Leagues had to offer but he was still the best candidate to step over the color line At 28 with World War II service in the Army behind him Robinson was mature and tough enough to withstand the taunts of racist fans and opposing players He was married to the beautiful Rachel Robinson and hence no threat to the sanctity of white womanhood And he was literally an All-American--in football at ucla Moreover Robinson understood everything that was riding on the experiment He left his natural combativeness in the locker room and endured incredible abuse without fighting back He let his batting and base running speak for him--and they spoke eloquently There is a reason why so many young black men have tried to follow in Robinsons footsteps pouring all their ambitions into the hope of a career as a pro athlete Sport is one of the few arenas of American society in which the playing field is really level If you get across the finish line first you win no one claims that youre lowering standards If youre as good as Robinson was your acclaim transcends racial boundaries But unless you get the chance to compete you can never demonstrate your ability
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