42’s a Hit!

After teaching 8th grade U.S. history for a number of years, my two greatest historic heroes are Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. I’ve always been fascinated with the Civil Rights movement, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the courage required of so many who put their lives on the line to fight for the equal rights promised by the United States Constitution. Maybe it’s because there’s something romantic in the underdog achieving victory.

One of my favorite movies of the last five years was Blind Side. Nothing much has compared recently—although Trouble With the Curve comes close—until now. Several weeks ago, I saw reviews for the Jackie Robinson movie, 42, and knew it was a must see—and I was right. What is it with me and sports movies? If there aren’t any good romantic comedies available (and there haven’t been for some time) then I gravitate to sports movies. I don’t even like sports!

I expected to fall in love with Jackie Robinson, and I wasn’t disappointed. He was strong and courageous—everything one would expect for a black man breaking the racial rules of 1947. And I anticipated the romance between Jackie and his wife Rachel would be sweet–and it was. What I didn’t expect was that the character of Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, would capture my heart—but he did. And this isn’t the Harrison Ford of The Indiana Jones fame—this is a crotchety old man with caterpillar eyebrows and a raunchy cigar sticking out of his mouth. But what a character he was!

It was Branch Rickey that turned 42 from a sports movie to a Christian movie. It was evident when he first chose Jackie Robinson’s file from a stack of possibilities on his desk. After quoting the man’s averages (which means nothing to me), he said, “Robinson’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. And God’s a Methodist.” I knew then that this was going to be a story about God’s amazing power—and I wasn’t disappointed.

Rickey kind of reminded me of Peter the apostle—full speed ahead, no fear, knowing he had righteousness on his side. Rickey didn’t allow racial slurs to go unchecked. He was quick to use Bible scripture to point out the racial inequalities and pigheadedness of those he came across. One of the biggest opponents to Jackie Robinson because of his color (what else?) was the Philadelphia Phillies. Ricky was quick to remind others that Philadelphia means “brotherly love” and yet they didn’t display it.

At one point, the manager for the Philadelphia Phillies refused to play the Brooklyn Dodgers because he wouldn’t play against a black man—although he didn’t use that term. The “N” word was used as a commonly as a punctuation mark—Branch Rickey asked him, “Do you think God likes baseball? Because when you meet him one day, and He asks you why you refused to play the Brooklyn Dodgers, ya think He’s going to be okay with you answering, ‘Because I wouldn’t play with a black man?’”

I base a movie’s success by how I feel when I leave the theater. I don’t know much about acting nor do I get hung up on what’s fact (in a movie based on true events) and what’s fiction. I just like a good story. And if God comes out the champion of that story, so much the better. 42 made a homerun as far as I’m concerned.

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