Sam will encounter no Billy Martins. He enters an NFL with a written policy against discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Second, let's discuss Jackie Robinson. Many of his own teammates signed a petition stating they would not play with him. At least one petitioner was traded .
Viciously taunted, and sometimes threatened by players, fans and others, Robinson faced enormous pressure to not only play well, but to do so while restraining the desire to punch somebody in the face. Had Robinson not "succeeded," the path for other black players would have become even more difficult, about which the former UCLA student was quite aware.
The attention and pressure on Robinson makes Sam's future career look like a coronation. Robinson's was a pre-television, pre-Internet, Jim Crow America, where sports fans really paid keen attention to only three sports -- boxing, horseracing and America's pastime, baseball. Most everybody was watching, many hoping and expecting him to fail. Robinson played Major League Baseball for 10 years and died early. His death certificate described the official cause as a heart attack. But it might as well have said pressure and stress killed him. He was 53.
Yes, Sam will have some challenges. But tell that to Hank Aaron.
In his autobiography, "I Had A Hammer," Aaron writes about when he and others were the first black players to play the South Atlantic League -- a minor league affiliated with the majors -- five years after Robinson entered the major league. Southern newspapers, covering the "Sally League," refused to print pictures of the black players. Taxi drivers in places like Florida refused to pick them up. Players, Aaron said, could be arrested simply for being on the street at night.
Robin Roberts, the Hall of Fame Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, broke into the major leagues the year after Robinson. Roberts recalled a double-header in Philadelphia when Robinson tore the cover off the ball while playing dazzling defense. The next day, Roberts' manager, Ben Chapman, approached Robinson. "Robinson," he said, "you're one hell of a ballplayer, but you're still a n--ger." Robinson, according to Roberts, just smiled and walked by. Chapman was fired not long after. Robinson is in the Hall of Fame.
To forget Burke wastes an opportunity to remind us of how far we have come. To liken Sam's challenges -- and there will be some -- to those faced by Robinson diminishes the legacy of number 42.
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