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Jackie Robinson: An American Legend Who Spans Generations

April 12th, 2013 Games

If you've been to a major league baseball game in the past few years, you've seen players wearing all sorts of numbers - but never 42. That's because this jersey number belonged to the late, great Jackie Robinson, and all major league teams have since retired it out of respect for this groundbreaking player. Robinson was the first African-American to play major league baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. His life and career are the subject of a new biopic called "42."

Robinson's life wasn't an easy one, as he was subjected to a great deal of racism as the result of being a man of color in baseball. However, Robinson persevered and his courage remains an inspiration today. 

An American hero from early on
Robinson was born in Cairo, Ga., in 1919. His family members were sharecroppers, and his mother had to raise him and his four siblings by herself. From very early on, Robinson knew the sting of prejudice, since his family was the only African-American one on his block and were often excluded from recreational activities. However, this prejudice only strengthened his family's bond and inspired Robinson to work hard to make his own name in an area that wasn't always supportive of minorities. 

Robinson wasn't just a baseball player - he was given varsity letters in baseball, basketball, football and track while attending the University of California, Los Angeles. He was named to the All-American football team in 1941, but had to leave college and join the army for financial reasons. Although Robinson had a stellar military career and was promoted to second lieutenant in two years, he was court-martialed due to the fact that he refused to comply with racist policies. After refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus during training, he was honorably discharged from the army. 

Breaking baseball's color barrier 
In 1945, Robinson played one season in the Negro Baseball League, where he was noticed by Branch Rickey, a vice president with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who recruited him for the team. Rickey knew that there were hard times in store for Robinson, and made him promise that he wouldn't fight back when confronted with racism. From the very beginning, Robinson faced racially charged jeers from the crowd, players on opposing teams and even players on his own team. His family received death threats , and some teams even said they wouldn't play the Dodgers if he remained on the team. 

However, Robinson didn't let any of this deter him from being an amazing player. By the end of his rookie season, he was National League Rookie of the Year with 12 home runs and a .297 batting average. The Dodgers won six pennants in his 10 seasons, largely due to Robinson's influence. In 1962, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, so all of his achievements could be documented for generations to come to admire. 

Leaving a legacy 
Robinson's story has served as an inspiration for generations of people who've felt as though they were discriminated against. After his death in 1972, Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, started the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The goal of this non-profit organization is to provide underserved populations with funding for higher education. According to the foundation's official website, 1,400 students from 43 states and the District of Columbia have benefited from its services. Furthermore, the organization has given $50 million in program support, $22 million of which was awarded in direct scholarship grants. 

The release of the new film "42" proves that Robinson's legacy lives on, and people will continue to talk about him for generations to come.