This weekend I enjoyed viewing the film 42, a biographical sports movie about the life of Jackie Robinson. As major league baseball’s first African-American player who debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in1947, Robinson endured a seemingly endless string of racial slurs, hostile crowd reactions, intentional knockdown pitches, and even death threats. He managed to overcome these challenges without losing his temper and eventually won the respect of teammates, opposing players, and skeptical fans through his talents as a baseball player.
While the movie includes some historical inaccuracies, it is a mostly authentic depiction of this remarkable athlete and even more impressive person. Leaders can learn a number of valuable lessons from how Robinson conducted his life with dignity, courage, and authenticity.
Many of us have never experienced prejudice or bias like Robinson yet we can emulate his determined spirit and refusal to yield when we face our own obstacles. Robinson benefited from an equally resolute team executive, Branch Rickey, whose decision to elevate the profile of African-American baseball players transformed the future direction of America’s national pastime.
Robinson used his talents and skills on the field to change people’s hearts and minds. He was daring and quick when running the bases, a solid fielder at a position (first base) that he had to learn how to play, and a gifted hitter. Leaders who take time to identify and hone their own competencies are more likely to earn the respect of those they serve and interact with.
Baseball is a team sport and Robinson faced the reality that many of his new Dodger teammates didn’t want to take the field with him. The tension of a divided clubhouse mirrors many of the situations found in today’s stressful workplace environments. Leaders who model acceptance and trust can disarm these volatile situations.
One person’s exceptional character and disciplined display of remarkable talent changed how a nation viewed segregation and certainly influenced the future for all African-American athletes. Robinson’s legacy was honored in 1997 when he became the first pro athlete in any sport to have his jersey number “42” universally retired by every major league baseball team.
The leadership lessons of Jackie Robinson remind us that personal integrity and determined talent make a formidable pair. We may never know the scope of our influence or how one unkind word or deed can change the course of a life or career. This week, as you face decisions and make choices, consider establishing your own “Number 42” legacy, even if you don’t have a jersey to retire.