42: A Sportual Film

I am watching the Detroit Tigers play the Oakland A’s after returning from the movie “42″ starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford, and there are several players of color in both lineups…a great difference between 1947 and now.

Throughout the movie, Branch Rickey voices his Christian faith to justify and affirm his decision to sign Jackie Robinson and break the color barrier in what was then white man’s major league baseball. One of the reasons Rickey chose Robinson was the Methodist faith mentioned on his resume. At least twice in the movie, Jack asked Rickey “why are you doing this?” Rickey’s first answer was simply, “Baseball ignored it, and now we can’t.” The second time was after Jackie received stitches from an intentional spiking at first base. Rickey began his answer by saying “I love baseball.” He continued to tell the story of his coaching at Ohio Wesleyan University with a negro catcher, and seeing the injustices he lived on a daily basis. He said it was…”unfair at the heart of the game I loved, and I could no longer ignore it.” He then went on to tell Jackie, “You made me love baseball again.” At the end of the film, our theater erupted in applause, which was to me, a Sportual victory.

During the film, Rickey also re-defined 2 words for Pee Wee Reese: sympathy and Philadelphia. Sympathy means “common feeling” or as Rickey told Reese “to suffer with” or “to share one’s suffering.” And Philadelphia, he said, comes from Greek origin meaning “brotherly love.” In the same way that Sportuality redefines words with the intent of creating a new outcome, Branch Rickey helped Pee Wee Reese understand the suffering of his teammate in a very different way. The scene following that conversation between Rickey and Reese is to me, one of the most powerful in the movie. With #42 standing at first base before the game at Cincinnati, taking abuse from the crowd, including men, women, and children, Reese joins Jackie and affirms his presence on the team in front of that crowd. It was a moving scene to see the child re-think his words in spite of the continued abuse surrounding him. After all, is it not the children who come to challenge, and who are the first to see the truth, or the fact that the emperor has no clothes?

On page 198, Sportuality defines sacrifice as “to make holy.” One of the stories in that chapter on sacrifice is about one Jackie Robinson, who through his choice and his actions, made not only the game, but this world, more whole…more holy. Two quotes introduce that word sacrifice in Sportuality, and directly reflect the spirit of “42″;

The world will never have lasting peace so long as men reserve for war the finest human qualities. Peace, no less than war, requires idealism and self-sacrifice and a righteous and dynamic faith.”  John Foster Dulles

If you have a chance to make life better for others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on Earth. No matter what our station in life, we are here to serve, even if that sometimes means making the greatest sacrifice of all.”  Roberto Clemente (one of the first Latin players to break into major league baseball)

42 wins my first annual “Sportual Film Award” for it’s truth, faith, sacrifice, community, and resulting joy. It will make you love baseball again. Thanks Warner Brothers!

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