Local NBC sports broadcaster George Michael described the impact legendary Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson had on racial equality at the Media and Public Affairs building Tuesday night as the featured speaker at an event sponsored by GW’s Jackie Robinson Society.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. did wonderful things, but Jackie Robinson changed the world,” said Michael, who hosts “The George Michael Sports Machine.”
Jackie Robinson became the first black man to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier April 15, 1947, when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He posted a career batting average of .311 with 1,518 hits and 137 home runs. His 197 stolen bases were the most in Major League Baseball from 1947 to 1956. But he also faced backlash for his unprecedented move from the Negro leagues to the Dodgers.
Robinson was not the best baseball player, but he was a devoted family man fighting to be treated as a human being, Michael said.
“The world you see today, whether you want to admit it or acknowledge it or not, is to a great extent created by Jackie Robinson,” Michael said. “When Ken Griffey, Jr. says, `I don’t know who Jackie Robinson was and he didn’t mean anything to me.’ The hell he didn’t. Jackie Robinson made it possible for everyone to realize that there’s no difference based on your color or your race.”
Robinson ran faster than white players at the time and brought unique athletic skills to the game, Michael said.
Students formed the Jackie Robinson Society, which hosted the event, in the fall of 1999 after taking sociology professor Richard Zamoff’s Sociology 701 class titled, “Jackie Robinson: Race, Sports and the American Dream.” Zamoff serves as the group’s faculty adviser and convinced the Sociology Department to add the course as a permanent offering each fall.
The Jackie Robinson Society promotes Robinson’s legacy by hosting speakers to talk about Robinson and his accomplishments, Zamoff said. The group brought Robinson’s widow Rachel to GW in November.
Michael talked about his own tough childhood and how Robinson and baseball changed his life. He grew up poor in a troubled home behind a bowling alley in St. Louis with a father who disliked his children, he told students. His mother was his only positive influence in the house and told him that if Robinson could make it, so could he.
“He changed the world. He changed baseball,” Michael said. “Most of all, he taught an awful lot of us, without ever telling us, about life. I carry Jackie Robinson with me everyday of my life.”
Junior JoAnn Dulay said Michael was informative and energetic and he taught her a great deal about Robinson, someone she knew little about before the event.
“(Robinson) was the first one, and he was by himself,” Dulay said. “Nobody wanted him there (in the major leagues). It’s easier to ride a cause when there’s a lot of people riding with it,” Dulay said.
Michael said although Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan are contributing significantly to their sports, no one will ever affect sports as much as Robinson did.