By Tara Fowler
It’s a film that’s been 20 years in the making: a biopic on Jackie Robinson, the man to break the color barrier in baseball. Sure, there’ve been others, such as 1950’s “The Jackie Robinson Story” (starring Robinson himself) or TNT’s “The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson” or HBO’s “Soul of the Game.” And yet, there’s never been one like this weekend’s “42,” starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ general manager who signed him. I don’t want to spoil it, so all I can say is, don’t miss seeing “42.” But to prepare you, here are five interesting facts you didn’t know about the man himself:
1) Robinson’s older brother Mack finished second behind Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics: James was not the only competitor to break the standing Olympic record for the 200-meter dash that year. Matthew Robinson, also known as Mack, broke that mark as well with a time of 21.1 seconds. Mack wouldn’t have even been able to compete in the Olympics if not for the charity of a group of local businessmen, who raised $150 for his train fare to the Olympic trials. With no coach and an old pair of spikes from his college days, Mack still managed to leave many of his competitors in the dust. Who knows how that Olympic race would have gone if he’d had proper training or, at the very least, a decent pair of running shoes?
2) Robinson was the vice president of Chock full o’Nuts: After retiring from baseball, Robinson took the executive position with the coffee company, making him the first black person to hold such a prominent place in a major cooperation. Robinson used this position to advocate for social justice, as can be seen in this letter from him to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
3) Despite being a famed UCLA alum, Robinson never graduated: He left school shortly before he was due to graduate, taking a job an assistant athletic director with the National Youth Administration in California. He then went on to pursue a career in football before being drafted into the Army in World War II.
4) Baseball wasn’t Robinson’s only strength: Robinson was a star at UCLA, excelling at football, track and basketball as well, and ultimately went on to become the school’s first ever four-sport letter winner.
5) He was the first pro athlete to have a number retired: Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, but his uniform number, 42, was universally retired across all major league teams in 1997, preventing any other player from wearing that number on his jersey — though of course all MLB players wear 42 on Jackie Robinson Day.