BASEBALL

Jackie Robinson's fight in baseball continues

2013-04-11T18:00:00Z 2013-04-12T11:08:13Z Jackie Robinson's fight in baseball continuesJim Peters and Hillary Smith Times Reporters nwitimes.com
April 11, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

Malcolm Jordan said that it's up to coaches to help today's athletes understand who Jackie Robinson was and why he's important to baseball.

So, the West Side coach plans to take the baseball team to see "42," the movie opening today chronicling Robinson's impact on the sport.

"We want them to fully understand the struggles that everyone had to go through to get us to where we are now," said Jordan, a West Side baseball coach. "Especially as African American baseball players. In some ways, we're still fighting today."

The fight is no longer about breaking the color barrier, Jordan said, but about making sure all players have the same opportunities. Jordan cited the need for feeder programs and keeping the attention on baseball in inner-city schools. 

Mike Coles, a Hammond High grad, was the only black player on his travel team, and the only black player at Purdue.

Also a former RailCats outfielder, Coles said he's walked into several professional clubhouses where he's the only black athlete in the room. 

"It's funny, outside of my Hammond High days, when I played in the summer for the Chiefs and the Seminoles, I was the only black guy on the team," said Coles, now an assistant at Bishop Noll. "I was never treated any different, it was always a good situation for me.

"I was used to it, I never had any issues with it. It's one of those things, that makes you dig deeper and realize that it took a guy like Jackie Robinson, someone who was special, to break the barrier."

Coles said he learned the most about Robinson during high school, but remembers hearing about who he was as a child.

"I'm not quite sure (players today) do really know who he was," Coles said. "I'm pretty sure people understand, they know that he was the first and among the more famous black baseball players, but I'm not sure they know the details, what he went through, you know, in depth."

Charles P. Gallmeier, the chair of the sociology and anthropology department at Indiana University Northwest, said that Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball was the "single most important change in sports of any kind."

"This was revolutionary, this was unheard of, it set the stage for any other kind of integration in all other sports," Gallmeier said. "It was the most important event in history of sports."

But, the fight continues in other ways, said Gallmeier, who has previously taught a course on the sociology of sports. Players of different races are still described differently by announcers, Gallmeier said.

"Even if you listen to commentators, and they don't mean to do this, but if you listen to an announcer, if a white kid has the ball, they say 'that's a head's up ball player, he'll make a great coach,'" Gallmeier said. "This happens even in the NCAA, if a black kid has the ball it's, 'my God, he's fast,' or 'he can jump, look how athletic he is.' These are residual things from American culture."

As someone who's been involved in the game for over half a century, Chesterton coach Jack Campbell marvels at the drive Robinson must have had to endure what he did.

"Riding at the back of the bus, not being accepted in restaurants, every time he turned around, it was something negative, and it obviously had something to do with race," Campbell said. "He probably changed the scope of all sports as far as black athletes, not just baseball, and society in general, finally being accepted."

Like West Side, both Portage and Hebron are planning team outings to go see the movie.

"I think it should have been done a long time ago," Hebron coach John Steinhilber said. "(Robinson) is a hero and role model to all baseball players. He refused to compromise his dreams when the whole world was resisting his very presence. He was someone that set the standard of how to play the game of baseball."

Portage coach Tim Pirowski noted how Robinson actually had a clause in his contract that he couldn’t complain if someone spit in his face.

"He was held to a higher level to prove to everyone that a black player could succeed in Major League Baseball," Pirowski said. "He wasn’t necessarily the best black player of that time, but he was the perfect player to integrate the game of baseball because of the type of human being he was."

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