Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson Story Shared on TV’s ‘Good Day Columbus’
Seventy years have passed since Ohio Wesleyan alumnus Branch Rickey partnered with Jackie Robinson to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier. And the celebrated story remains as relevant as ever, says President Rock Jones, Ph.D.
“We use the story to encourage our students today to think about what commitments will they make as undergraduates,” Jones told “Good Day Columbus” reporter Cameron Fontana, “not knowing when, where, or how they will fulfill them. How will they be the Branch Rickeys of their era?”
Rickey was an Ohio Wesleyan student and baseball coach in 1903, when an incident in Indiana changed his life. The OWU athletes were checking into a South Bend hotel when the clerk refused to rent a room to the team’s African American catcher, Charles Thomas.
Rickey threatened to cancel the upcoming baseball game if Thomas wasn’t allowed to stay at the hotel, and the clerk reluctantly relented. But Rickey saw the anguish Thomas suffered and recounted it later: “He looked at me and said, ‘It’s my skin. If I could just tear it off, I’d be like everybody else. It’s my skin; it’s my skin, Mr. Rickey!’ ”
At that moment, Rickey vowed that if he ever had the opportunity to help end segregation, he would do so without hesitation.
A man of his word, Rickey changed history when, as president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he signed Jackie Robinson.
On April 15, 1947, Robinson took the field wearing No. 42 in his first Major League game. The courage and vision of both Rickey and Robinson helped to end racial segregation in professional sports and set the stage for the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
In recognition of Rickey’s contributions, ESPN honored the 1904 OWU alumnus as the “Most Influential Sports Figure of the 20th Century.”
President Jones, in his “Good Day Columbus” interview, said Rickey’s story underscores the power of every individual to make a difference. “It takes that one person to step forward and to lead,” Jones said.
Fontana also interviewed Athletics Director Roger Ingles, who said Rickey’s commitment to doing the right thing was evident in all aspects of his life.
“He really was very much involved in civil rights and making sure that people were doing what was right,” Ingles said. “He really was a person who was focused on the big picture.”
Watch FOX28 and Fontana’s complete story, “Branch Rickey’s Commitment:”