Last month the Washington Nationals, in conjunction with DC Public Schools, Warner Brothers, and the Regal Gallery Theater, treated nearly 400 high school students from 14 DC schools to a special showing of the film “42,” which highlights the impact of Jackie Robinson’s legacy on American history.
Following the screening, Nationals broadcaster Dave Jageler moderated an open Q&A session featuring Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo, center fielder Denard Span, first base coach Tony Tarasco, and Kendra Gaither from the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
The students were encouraged to ask the panel questions on a variety of topics, many of which focused on the challenges of being a professional athlete, the impact of Jackie Robinson, and battling racial prejudice, both on and off the field.
When asked if they thought they would have had the bravery to do what Robinson did, Span and Tarasco had slightly different takes. While Span expressed hope that he could have done the same, Tarasco was more forthcoming.
“Honestly, I don’t think I could have,” he said.
All of the participants on the panel stressed the importance of remembering just how significant Robinson’s ascent to the Major Leagues was and how his influence extended far beyond the playing field. After all, he made his debut in 1947, more than 16 full years prior to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” Speech, often thought of as the centerpiece of the American Civil Rights Movement.
“With the passage of time, there’s an opportunity for amnesia,” explained Gaither, whose work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation is an ongoing effort to fight such an occurrence. “A movie like this reminds us of what life was really like back then.”
For his part, Span expressed not only gratitude for the doors the previous generations opened that allowed him to play baseball, but also pride in the opportunity to so publicly celebrate Robinson’s legacy every April 15th.
“It’s a day that I look forward to every year,” he said of MLB’s league-wide day of recognition, on which all players wear the number 42. “We get a chance to honor a special individual.”
The event proved to be an entertaining one for the teenagers, many of whom are student-athletes who recognized powerful themes portrayed in the movie, including how the spirit of the team overcame individual prejudice.
“It was a great experience, seeing the movie and seeing what [Jackie Robinson] went through.” said Devin Rivera, a sophomore baseball player at Woodrow Wilson High School. “I loved the Q&A session. It was great that we could interact with some people who are actively playing and leading the Nationals organization.”