Expressway: Jackie Robinson, Barack Obama and the grand experiment

Jackie Robinson with Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey

Jackie Robinson with Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey (Jan. 24, 1950) (Credit: AP)

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While viewing the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on TV, my thoughts took me back to 1947, when I was 8 years old and living in North Merrick.

I was glued to the family Philco Console radio when Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier that had kept black players out of Major League Baseball. It was the great American pastime, but not the all-American pastime, since all Americans were not allowed to participate.

That remarkable year saw Robinson playing first base for my beloved Dodgers. How proud I was that of the 16 major league teams, it was my team, and its chief executive, Branch Rickey, that pioneered this bigot-shattering move.


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But admission to the big leagues did not mean acceptance. Admission had its price. Robinson was reviled by the mean-spirited racists in and out of the majors, reportedly including a clique of his own teammates. They hurled every epithet in the bigot's thesaurus at him. Not content with despicable insults, pitchers, under orders or voluntarily, threw beanballs at his head. Baserunners gleefully attempted to cripple him, sliding spikes-high or stomping on his feet.

Robinson took it without voicing complaint or retaliating. He let his talents and abilities do the talking, earning rookie of the year in 1947. If he had batted .200 and committed 50 errors, the cause of integration in baseball, and democracy in America, would have been set back for God knows how long. Baseball's integration would have been viewed as a failure, a fluke, and it would be one and done.

The connection to Obama?

The re-election of President Obama was in many ways more important and significant than his election in 2008.

Rarely has an American president been as reviled. The extremists have questioned his birthplace and whether he is an American. They have challenged his college admission, grades, and records. They have smeared him as a communist, a Nazi, a socialist. Yes, even a racist. Everything short of hurling beanballs and stomping on his feet.

The "loyal opposition," totally obstructionist, was hellbent on making him a one-term president and his presidency a failure. His election in 2008 would have been viewed as a fluke, one and done, because he couldn't perform in the major leagues of politics.

And the cause of democracy in America would have been set back for God knows how long.

Obama endured the scathing insults. In the case of those who cast doubt on his birth in Hawaii, he did release his long-form birth certificate to put that issue to rest. However, he has never responded to his critics with vitriol. Both he and Robinson displayed grace under enormous pressure.

Jackie Robinson and Barack Obama, each in his chosen field and in his own time, have been extraordinarily important in helping to mold America into the great country that it is. They have been instrumental in fulfilling the grand experiment, the promise and the ideals of our nation.

Reader Jack Bilello lives in Massapequa Park.

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