Volume 6, No. 5 - June 2011
Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Finding Your Moral Courage: An Excerpt from Elevating Your Game
(Jim Thompson’s new book – Elevating Your Game: Becoming a Triple-Impact CompetitorTM – is written for middle school and high school athletes to help them pursue the ideal of the Triple-Impact Competitor, committed to improving oneself, one’s teammates and the game as a whole. Of course, managers and coaches can use the writing to inspire their players to achieve on and off the field.)
Finding Your Moral Courage
In 1947 Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier as the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. Today, with every sport racially integrated, it’s hard to imagine how difficult this was. In addition to death threats, Robinson found members of his own team — the Brooklyn Dodgers — didn’t want to play with him because of his race.
When the Dodgers played at Crosley Field in Cincinnati in May 1947, Robinson was the target of racist taunts, jeers, and death threats. The Dodgers’ captain, Pee Wee Reese, made a point of standing with his arm around Robinson as if to say, “This man is good enough to be on my team, and I stand with him.”
Pee Wee’s Moral Courage
We often think of physical bravery when we talk about courage, such as a firefighter going into a burning building to rescue a sleeping child. But many of the injustices in the world happen because observers stand idly by because they lack “moral courage.” Moral courage is standing up publicly for what you believe is right even when others — including sometimes your friends and teammates — don’t.
Jackie Robinson’s physical and psychological courage in facing the pressure that dogged his career was enormous. Pee Wee Reese showed moral courage in standing up against the prevailing norm for many in that era which valued black people less than white people.
Reese, the only Southern-raised Dodger who refused to sign a petition against Robinson, went against the grain of his upbringing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him. Robinson later credited Reese’s support as helping him succeed against all the pressures of being the first African-American player in Major League baseball. This act of moral courage is commemorated in a statue of Reese and Robinson outside the stadium in Coney Island where the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones now play.
Running Mindlessly With the Herd
Human beings have a deep need to be part of a group. Mostly this is a good thing, and it has helped humankind in important ways. But there is a downside to it. We can want to be part of a group so much we do things we know are wrong to avoid conflict with others in the group. And sometimes we may not directly participate in wrongdoing but stand idly by while others do bad things.
Because being ostracized from a group is so scary to many people, they are willing to compromise their ethical standards to run mindlessly with the herd. Exhibiting moral courage requires real courage.
For more ideas on getting the most out of your players while teaching life lessons, take the Little League Double-Goal Coach® Course at http://shopping.positivecoach.org/Little-League-DGC, and for a video that explains Double-Goal Coaching in more detail, visit http://www.littleleague.org/pca