Literature Circle: Staking a Claim

In the following passage from A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports, Gerald L. Early discusses the complex character of Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete to play in major league baseball. What is the purpose of the sources Early chooses to include? How do they enhance or detract from his own voice? What is the purpose of each of the notes documenting the sources?

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from A Level Playing Field

But 1949 was also Robinson’s year of liberation. According to Branch Rickey,
known as the Mahatma by sportswriters, the Dodgers executive who signed
Robinson and who pushed for integration: “For three years [that was the
agreement] this boy was to turn the other cheek. He did, day after day, until
he had no other to turn. They were both beat off. There were slight slip-ups on
occasion in that first year in Montreal.”1

Robinson had agreed to ignore all slights, insults, and abuses that he endured
on the playing field during his first three years as a professional ballplayer in
the white leagues. This generated, naturally, a certain public sympathy, as
Robinson did, indeed, endure much abuse, and he did not have a natural or an
easy camaraderie with most of his white teammates. He became almost a perfect
Gandhi-like figure of sacrifice and forbearance, and he created the paradigm
for how integration was to proceed in the United States in the 1950s and
early 1960s — the Noble Negro who, through his nobility, a mystical product of
his American heritage of suffering but enduring devotion to the foundational
principles of American life, legitimates white institutions as he integrates them.
As the New York Times put it in 1950, “The going wasn’t easy. Jackie Robinson
met open or covert hostility with the spirit of a gallant gentleman. He kept his
temper, he kept his poise and he played good baseball. Now he has won his
battle. No fan threatens to riot, no player threatens to go on strike when Jackie
Robinson, or any one of several Negroes, takes the field.”2 This is the Robinson
that is always remembered when his career is reexamined today. He is
almost always sentimentalized.

But it must be remembered that Robinson played major league baseball
with the Dodgers for ten years, only two of which were under this agreement.
(The agreement also included the year in Montreal.) So for most of his career as
a big league ballplayer, Robinson did not act in any sort of self-sacrificing nonviolent
way. He was a tough, almost chip-on-the-shoulder player, a particularly
aggressive athlete who usually took umbrage at the least slight or unfairness
he felt on the field. He understood that high-performance sports were about
intimidation, and he was not about to be intimidated. 3

1. Branch Rickey, with Robert Riger, The American Diamond: A Documentary of the
Game of Baseball (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965), p. 46.
2. “Jackie Robinson’s New Honor,” New York Times, December 8, 1950.
3. “In 1950, and the years to come, Jack battled with umpires over matters not simply
of judgment but of ethics, in his growing belief that the umpires, all white, were abusing
their power in order to put him in his place.” See Rampersad, Jackie Robinson,
p. 229; see also Jackie Robinson, “Now I Know Why They Boo Me!” Look, January
25, 1955, pp. 22–28.

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