Alan Zendell, August 29, 2020
When disparate events converge toward a critical focal point my spiritual side takes over. I can’t resist the implications of an unlikely confluence of circumstances.
Every year since 2004, Major League Baseball has designated April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day. April 15th, aside from meaning Tax Day for most of us, was the opening day of the 1947 baseball season, when Robinson made his major league debut as the first black baseball player. But in 2020, COVID caused us to hit pause in our normal routines, and the baseball season didn’t begin until July 23rd. A lot of things fell by the wayside, but Jackie Robinson Day was re-scheduled for August 28th, the date in 1946 that Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, told Robinson he’d be in the Dodgers’ starting lineup the following season.
August 28, 2020 was also the day actor Chadwick Boseman died, not from COVID but colon cancer. Boseman was the 21st century embodiment of a handful of archetypal actors, like Sidney Poitier and Denzell Washington, who re-formed the screen image of black Americans. In addition to creating living monuments to Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, and the fictional King T’Challa who represented the highest values of the African culture from which the slaves who worked American plantations were abducted, Boseman’s first major film role memorialized Robinson.
August 28, 2020 was also when thousands of Americans marched on Washington to mark the horrendous shooting of a young black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. How prophetic that that shooting should have occurred just as two months of protests over racial inequality were dying down, during the Republican National Convention. Speaker after convention speaker touted a return to “American values” while somehow completely ignoring the latest glaring examples of how systemic racism still destroys black families. Worse, in the twisted ideology of Trumpism, people demonstrating against the killing of black Americans are portrayed as criminals and anarchists. Thus, Trump feels justified in claiming America needs a law and order president who can deploy storm troopers at will wherever anyone who doesn’t like him marches on American streets.
On one hand, Trump’s people spent four days fear-mongering on national television, in sharp contrast to the message of the Biden campaign which projected an image of love, unity, and diversity. We’ve been through all this before. Yet somehow, the re-energizing of the Black Lives Matter movement feels different. Thirty-foot-tall letters spell out BLACK LIVES MATTER in permanent yellow paint on a two-block long segment of 16th Street NW in Washington, within sight of the White House, where Trump can refuse to look at it, but he can’t ignore it.
In 2020, black sports stars are foregoing shampoo and car commercials, and instead throwing their weight behind keeping BLM in the public eye, assuring that Trump cannot distract voters from reality with alternate facts and conspiracy theories. Stars of the National Basketball Association, black and white, players and management, boycotted their own playoff games, followed by several MLB teams who refused to play in solidarity. Those games will all be re-scheduled and the players will be paid, but the Players Alliance of more than a hundred black players are donating their salaries for the two boycotted days to aid suffering black families. (The lowest paid MLB players earn $3,500, the highest more than $200,000 per game.)
Doc Rivers, coach of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, closed the loop on the confluence of events when he reacted to Blake’s shooting during the Republican convention. “All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear – we’re the ones getting killed, we’re the ones getting shot.”
For all of these things to be happening at once, superimposed on television images of two hurricanes simultaneously hitting the same part of the Gulf Coast for the first time in recorded history, it seems like we’re being forced to look at everything in perspective. The COVID virus will have claimed over a quarter of a million (!) American lives by Election Day. Our climate becomes more erratic and deadly every year, while the Trump administration continues to dismantle environmental protections.
This year, Trump’s insistence on returning to business as usual may bite him, as every major sports team will keep the fire burning under BLM, and millions of Americans will see that every week. Whether you believe in God, an Earth Spirit, or The Force, it’s with us this year. Trump will not be able to hide from his failures and his pandering this time.
I didn’t grasp the significance of Jackie Robinson when I cheered for him as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, but I do now. On Election Day, everyone will have a clear unobscured choice.