Everyone in Major League Baseball was wearing 42 on Friday. Tragically, it turned out to be for the man who wore it and the man who portrayed the man who wore it.
Jackie Robinson Day is supposed to be April 15, the day Jackie integrated baseball. Since COVID-19 made April baseball impossible, MLB staged the event on August 28, the day former Dodgers owner Branch Rickey met Jackie and decided he would be the first Black man in the big leagues.
Chadwick Boseman, who passed away on Friday after a battle with colon cancer, played the role of Jackie Robinson in the movie "42."
That's not a role you take lightly, and Boseman knew it. In an interview with Vanity Fair, the actor talked about the pressure of honoring a man who was a true American hero:
"I definitely felt the responsibility going into it. I felt more responsibility to [Jackie’s widow] Rachel Robinson than I did to anyone else. Everyone had their own opinions and reasons why he is a hero to them. People would meet me, call me, text me, email me, Facebook message me, and tell me, 'I hear you’re playing my hero.' When that happens, you know that all of those people are going to have an opinion and feelings that you have to live up to. But I just thought, Let me just focus on the truth.
If you think about him being an icon and a hero anyway, that actually is the pitfall in playing the role. It’s the biggest pitfall you can fall into because he didn’t know that he was going to be an icon. He didn’t know that he was going to be a hero. In fact, [Jackie] has to deal with that heroism throughout the movie when he finds out that [being in Major League baseball] is a bigger deal to everyone than he thought it would be. You can’t completely block out that feeling of responsibility, but you can focus the same way he did—one thing at a time, moment to moment. Eventually all the pieces will be there."
Boseman's performance brought the story of Jackie Robinson to a new generation. The movie "42" helped to extend Jackie's legacy, introducing his incredible life to elementary school kids (mine included).
Perhaps the best way to put Boseman's work as Robinson into perspective is what Rachel Robinson says about the performance. She says Chadwick "captures the quiet dignity that Jack had even when he was under attack."
I have long loved Jackie Robinson for what he stood for and how incredibly talented he was. That movie made me a fan of Chadwick Boseman, who approached life with the same steely demeanor and determination that made both men great.
I wish they could have shared a day together in a much, much different way.