Every April 15th, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day but due to Covid, that celebration had been moved to August 28th, and it couldn’t have fallen during a more appropriate time. Although the date itself is significant in Jackie’s history as the day that he met Branch Rickey in 1945 to discuss joining the Dodgers, it proved to be a day when racial injustice was again the main topic of the day and fitting that it was also the 65th anniversary of the lynching of 14 year old Emmett Till. Protests have sparked across the county this week after the August 23rd shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rioting began that night as the Kenosha County Courthouse, and the violence continued into Tuesday, when an armed “militia” arrived to “protect their city”. Video shows that the police department encouraged the vigilantes while the department publicly said that they were not invited and not welcomed. The violence would lead to 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse from Illinois shooting three protestors, killing two. It has been reported that after the shootings Rittenhouse tried to turn himself into police, and even approached them with his hands up. The police did not stop or question him even as other witnesses were telling them that he was the shooter.
Outraged, players from the NBA and WNBA protested by not playing their games scheduled for that evening as a sign of solidarity with black communities, by using their platforms to raise awareness to this ongoing problem, and demand change. Six Major League Baseball teams, the Reds, Brewers, Mariners, Padres, Giants, and Dodgers also decided not to play. Although the Oakland Athletics would decide to not play their Thursday night game, it did not go unnoticed that the team from a city with such a large black population, and historically known for its vocal and demonstrative fights for social justice, did not postpone their game on Wednesday night.
On Friday Jackie Robinson day was celebrated across the league. Every team wore the #42 on their jerseys as a remembrance, and even more so players told their stories of racial inequality and injustice. I personally learned about Posy Lombard, mother of Dodgers first base coach George Lombard, and her civil rights activism throughout her life until her tragic death in 1985. Oddly enough the Athletics found themselves not playing again as the Astros, whose previous two games had been postponed due to Hurricane Laura, chose not to play their game Friday night as it was their first opportunity to show their support for the Black Lives movement. In a memorable pre-game ceremony, the two teams went on to the field and placed an Astros and an A’s #42 jersey in the batter’s box with a Black Lives Matter shirt on home plate as they observed a moment of silence before exiting the field. Coincidentally Jackie Robinson Day came to a close with the news that actor Chadwick Boseman died after battling colon cancer for four years. Boseman will be most remember for his role as Black Panther, but he is also known for portraying Jackie Robinson in the 2013 Brian Helgeland film, “42”. All of this took place while Rittenhouse, who was charged with first degree intentional homicide, first degree reckless homicide, and two counts of first degree recklessly endangering safety, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18, had his extradition hearing originally scheduled for Friday the 28th pushed back to September 25th.
On Jackie Robinson Day, La Vida Baseball (@lavidabaseball) asked in a tweet, “What does this day mean to you”? I had never considered the importance of this day and how it affected me. I kept the question in the back of my mind as I went about my day when it finally hit me that Jackie Robinson was bigger than breaking the color barrier in baseball. I replied to the tweet in this manner, “As we approach the 50th anniversary of the death of Ruben Salazar, Jackie Robinson reminds me that there are many more Jackie Robinsons in many different fields. As a Mexican-American striving to be a journalist that matters, I’m remembering Salazar and his contribution for us”. Ruben Salazar was a Mexican-American writer for the Los Angeles Times, and today, August 29th, marks the 50th anniversary of his death while covering the National Chicano Moratorium March in 1970.
The March began as a protest over the disproportionate number of Latinos who served and were killed during the Vietnam War. Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputies were already on the scene for the rally after the march, and as the protest became more violent, Salazar went to take a break and get a drink at a local bar. As the rioting escalated, the Sheriff’s Department bussed in untrained cadets for backup, and a tear gas projectile flew into the bar striking Salazar in the head and killing him. The death was ruled a homicide, as many believed it was actually an assassination, but Deputy Tom Wilson was never prosecuted. Gustavo Arellano of the Los Angeles Times recently described Salazar’s writing as “the Chicano version of the Gnostic Gospels”. He was a pioneer in journalism for Mexican-Americans, our Jackie Robinson if you will.
Salazar’s headlines could fit into any news story we read today, and while much has changed since his death, we are still dealing with the same problems we faced as a nation 50 years ago; war, police brutality, racial tension, and civil unrest, it all remains the same. The 70s would go on to produce a new wave of Mexican-American activists who challenged our values of the past. The Chicano Power Movement was strong leading to many more Mexican-American voices joining forces to be heard, to include the Brown Berets who were inspired by the Black Panthers to bring attention to police brutality against Latinos. So why aren’t more people today talking about Latinos killed by police? They represented 16% of those shot by police in 2016, second only to blacks at 25% according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. I’m not trying to cry foul, but to point out that Latino civil rights issues are too focused on immigration issues, and mainly that of the undocumented. Unfortunately, immigration only makes the issue of police brutality that much more difficult for Latinos as the media seems to only focus on black and white incidents. This in turn takes the focus away from all other cases of police brutality, and if the focus is small, that can only mean that the attention given to other injustices will also be small.
Baseball, with all the good its trying to do now by supporting Black Lives Matter, and their programs to make the game more accessible to inner city kids, still has a problem with minorities. On August 9, 2020, Jim Passon (@PassonJim) tweeted stats showing the teams that had the lowest percentage of plate appearances by players born outside of the United States. While teams like the Yankees, Padres, and Giants boasted numbers over 30%, the Rockies had 3.9%, while the Mariners had 0% as of August 9, 2020. Some speculate that this is intentional by Mariners ownership and cite the gender and racial discrimination case filed by their former high-performance director Lorena Martin.
Minorities all have a right to equal justice, and if you have a problem with what is going on in our country, think about this quote by Ruben Salazar, “The point is that whatever one may think of the merits of either side of these cases, grassroot movements such as the school walkouts bring out these important overall issues. And that is what democracy is about”. Salazar is remembered as a martyr, but we must rediscover, and remember him as a reporter.