No athlete ever faced greater pressure and suffered more abuse than he did. Yet he didn’t just endure; he thrived as he changed baseball and American society forever. How did Jackie Robinson do it?
A new book answers that question just in time for the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, a day Major League Baseball has set aside to honor Robinson’s memory.
“Much has been written about Robinson. But little has been said about how his faith carried him through the torment and abuse he suffered,” said Chris Lamb, co-author of “Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography; The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero.”
Robinson faced death threats daily, and no one — not even his teammates –wanted to be around him. “He was surrounded by nothing but hate,” Lamb said. “Pitchers threw at his head, and base runners tried to cleat him.”
Understanding Robinson’s faith is necessary to understand how he dealt with the brutal racism that came with breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, and also with overcoming racism and poverty as a child, his court-martial in the U.S. Army, and his work as a civil rights activist after he retired from baseball, Lamb said.
Not many are aware of the role faith played in Robinson’s life for a simple reason, Lamb said: “He didn’t like to talk about it.”
“Only when we see faith in every part of Robinson’s life, from his birth to his death, will we understand that Robinson was a man for whom Christian faith acted as a source of inspiration and motivation, comfort and strength, wisdom and direction,” Lamb said.
Lamb, a journalism professor in the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is the author and editor of several books, including “Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Spring Training.” Michael Long, associate professor of peace and conflict studies and religious studies at Elizabethtown College, co-authored the book. Long is the author and editor of several books on civil rights, religion and politics, and peacemaking in midcentury America, including “First Class Citizenship: The Civil Rights Letters of Jackie Robinson.”