Jackie Robinson, Michael Sam, Sports, and the Movies

Yes, this post is about a movie, but I’ll get to that later.

Call it a coincidence. This evening, I happened to read an article about Michael Sam, a successful college football player who appears (or had appeared) to have a promising future in the NFL. On Sunday, he came out. According to ESPN, “Sam could become the first openly gay player in the history of the NFL."

I don’t follow professional sports, but good for him.

As it happened, this evening I watched The Jackie Robinson Story. Made in 1950, soon after Robinson broke baseball’s color line, it’s a super low-budget programmer starring Robinson himself. I suspect it was marketed exclusively to African-American audiences in those segregated days.

Robinson, who never acted before or after, does a reasonably good job playing himself (that’s more difficult than you think). You see his hope, his confidence, his fears, and the struggles he has suppressing his well-earned anger. He also, of course, has the good looks, the physical grace, and the athletic abilities that the part calls for. There’s a lot of baseball action, and it’s him for real.

By the way, there’s one future star in the picture: Ruby Dee, playing his his wife. I’d never seen her so young.

This is a film about race even more than its a film about baseball. A great many players, coaches, sports commentators, and fans did not want him to succeed. When he stepped up to the plate, he was booed. He persevered.

Cheaply made and simplistic, The Jackie Robinson Story still manages to move you. As bad as American racism is today, this picture reminds you how much worse it once was. And you can’t help admire this athlete who stood up against it.

Which brings up a question. In 64 years, will someone watch The Michael Sam Story on whatever they’re showing movies on then, and be reminded just how homophobic America was in the early 21st century.

The Jackie Robinson Story is available on Hulu Plus.

2 thoughts on “Jackie Robinson, Michael Sam, Sports, and the Movies

  1. Actually, Lincoln, for a low budget film from one of the lowest-rung studios in Hollywood (Eagle-Lion, formerly known as PRC) the film did surprisingly well. It received a positive review from the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther and played the Astor Theater on Broadway, the same theater that M-G-M usually used to premiere its musicals. I suspect it was marketed to more than an African-American audience…

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