GW’s Jackie Robinson Society commemorated the 63rd anniversary of Robinson’s debut as the first ever African American player in Major League Baseball Thursday, handing out awards as part of a ceremony in the Jack Morton Auditorium.
The awards, which are handed out to recognize contributions to the D.C. area in the tradition of Jackie Robinson, were given this year to Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and former Los Angeles Dodger Maury Wills, although only Eugene Robinson was able to attend the ceremony. Recipients are nominated by members of the Jackie Robinson Society, and are chosen by faculty adviser professor Richard Zamoff along with the president of the society.
Wills, who could not travel due to health problems and was represented at the ceremony by his brother Donald Wills, is a District native who won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1962, when he stole 102 bases. Maury Wills was also the captain of the 1962 and 1965 World Series champion Dodger squads. He attended Cardozo High School in the District, where the baseball field now bears his name.
“I didn’t know Maury had so many accomplishments,” joked Donald Wills after hearing his brother’s accomplishments listed at the event, adding, “Maury will cherish this along with his other momentos.”
Eugene Robinson, who is not related to the ceremony’s namesake, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his coverage of the 2008 presidential election. He appears frequently on MSNBC as a political analyst, mostly on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball with Chris Matthews, in addition to writing his syndicated column.
“I am so honored to receive this award,” Eugene Robinson said. “He taught so many. how to be the first. It is not an easy thing to be, but it is possible because Jackie Robinson was the first first.”
Also featured in the ceremony was a lecture from Stanford professor Arnold Rampersad, Jackie Robinson’s official biographer. Rampersad’s lecture was the first ever Ronald Gabriel Memorial Lecture, given in honor of Brooklyn Dodger fan club founder Ron Gabriel. Gabriel was also recognized by Zamoff as being “instrumental in helping GW form the Jackie Robinson Society.”
“He was determined to change his community, culture [and] nation,” Rampersad said of Jackie Robinson during the lecture.
Rampersad also added that Jackie Robinson taught Americans an important lesson, saying, “Life is not a spectator sport.”
Also among Thursday night’s honorees was GW senior pitcher Bobby Lucas, who was this year’s recipient of the award given annually to the GW baseball player who best represents the spirit of Jackie Robinson. Lucas, who took Zamoff’s class on Jackie Robinson as a freshman, said he was “humbled” to be receiving the award as a senior.
Not participating in the ceremonies was Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, who was in New York Thursday night as part of a pre-game ceremony at Yankee Stadium to commemorate her late husband’s anniversary. Rachel Robinson did send a note expressing her gratitude for the event and her disappointment at not being able to attend.
Ultimately though, Zamoff said the event lived up to the Jackie Robinson Society’s goals.
The purpose of the Jackie Robinson Society is to, “celebrate his life and legacy, but [also] perpetuate it,” Zamoff said. “He was a symbol of courage, symbol of change and a catalyst for change.”