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Legacy of Jackie Robinson leads to pursuit of present-day role models

April 17, 1997

Michael Giles

Lariat night news editor

The issue:

Role models

His view:

Role models like Jackie Robinson are hard to come by

As the world now knows, this week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most historic events in the history of not only sports, but also modern man. On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black man to participate in a major league baseball game, breaking the color barrier and paving the way for countless others to take part in America's pastime.

Tuesday night, baseball honored the legacy of Jackie Robinson with the unprecedented retirement of his #42 jersey by all major league teams. This was a fitting tribute for a man whom some people put on a level with Martin Luther King Jr. as a leader in the fight for equal rights for all blacks.

Back in 1947, however, I'm sure the fight for equal rights was not the first thing on Mr. Robinson's mind. He loved the game of baseball, and all he really wanted to do was play. Now, if he could showcase his talent, make some money and win a couple of championships for the Brooklyn Dodgers, that would be great. His intense competitive spirit made him a great player, proving to the world there was a great untapped source of talent out there, and the time for segregation in baseball had come to an end.

This is Robinson's greatest legacy, but his passion for the game spilled out into his regular life as well, as he fought for his race in many different avenues, especially for upper-level jobs.

Jackie Robinson was a tender-hearted, generous man: a true hero and role model to men, women and children of all ages and races across America. Unfortunately, genuine role models like Robinson are hard to come by these days.

It seems at least once a week, some sports figure is involved in some type of incident involving drugs, assault and other types of negative behavior, both on and off the field.

Recent memory brings to mind Pete Rose's betting on baseball, Roy Tarpley, Dexter Manley, Leon Lett and Steve Howe's drug suspensions, Roberto Alomar spitting in an umpire's face, Mike Tyson's prison sentence for rape and John McEnroe's tirades on the tennis court.

And let's not forget Michael Irvin, Dennis Rodman, John Daly, Marge Schott and OJ Simpson. How many parents do you think would want to invite them to their child's birthday party?

Nevertheless, kids have always looked towards sports personalities to be their heroes. It's just a natural thing to do. Every one of us has, at one time or another, pretended to be an athlete, leading their team to victory in the championship game.

Charles Barkley, famous for his sound bytes, has always claimed not to be and not to even want to be a role model for kids. He suggests parents should take on that responsibility. Now, there's an interesting concept. Parents serving as good examples for their children to base their lives after. Nah, it would never work.

Occasionally, bright spots do come along in the sports world. Tiger Woods, not only the first black, but the youngest man to ever win the Masters, took care of business and walked away with his green jacket. Everyone knew Woods was something special, but his convincing victory in one of golf's toughest tournaments, (which happened to fall during the same week as Jackie Robinson's anniversary), has solidified him as a future star and role model for children.

Kerri Strug and the rest of the U.S. olympic women's gymnastics team did more to spur the hopes and dreams of young girls across the nation than anyone since Mary Lou Retton.

Perhaps the most famous sports figure, Michael Jordan, is known the world-over for his almost super-human basketball talent. He has been a good role model over the years. Parents shouldn't have a problem with their son or daughter wanting to 'be like Mike.'

Genuine good guys like David Robinson, Bill Bates and Nolan Ryan also serve as good sports role models. One of the many good role models on campus is Clifton Rubin, a defensive end, who volunteered last summer at a home for handicapped children. I wish more athletes like him would make an effort to make their community a better place.

All sports have role models; parents just need to be cautious their children find the good ones. And if someone their child cheers for falls astray, parents need to be there to explain why it happened. By doing this, parents can become the true role models, even if their kids wouldn't like it.

Jackie Robinson would be proud.

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