I originally posted this newsletter a couple of years ago, but I think it’s worth a repeat:
On April 15, 1947, four-hundred Major League Baseball players took to the field for opening day. For the first time in history, however, only 399 of them were white. On this day, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in the big leagues.
To appreciate the mental toughness necessary for Robinson to play at that time, consider his circumstances: In 1947 several southern states continued to deny African-Americans the right to vote. Lynchings still occurred from time to time. Blacks were not allowed to sit in the same bus seats, use the same bathrooms, go to the same schools or eat at the same lunch counters as whites. When the news broke that Robinson would play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, several of his own teammates threatened to quit. As the season progressed, Robinson received countless death threats. He endured endless racial slurs from fans and opposing players. There were constant rumors about opposing players planning to hit him in the head with a pitch or slash him with their spikes to take him out of the game. And in addition to all the threats, Robinson also carried the hopes and expectations of an entire race on his shoulders; the dreams African-Americans had that he would play well enough to show that blacks were equal to whites.
Yet Jackie Robinson not only played baseball under these excruciating circumstances, he excelled under them. He batted .297, was voted Rookie of the Year, won the hearts of all but the most bigoted fans and players, and led his team to within one game of winning the World Series.
That Robinson was both scared and infuriated at the treatment he received is well documented. What is less talked about is the incredible mental toughness he demonstrated throughout that season. Of all the mental skills required to thrive under such adversity, two stand out. First, Robinson had an incredible ability to focus. Imagine the skill it must have taken to focus in the batter’s box without being distracted by the taunts, the threats and the enormous expectations. Second, Robinson had an uncanny ability to redirect his emotions. He was able to channel his rage and use it to energize himself to perform at his peak.
Most baseball historians agree that Jackie Robinson was not the most physically talented African-American baseball player in 1947. He had a mediocre throwing arm, a bad ankle and, at age 28, he was a little old to be a rookie. But he wasn’t chosen to break baseball’s racial barrier because he was the most physically talented; he was chosen because his extraordinary mental toughness enabled him to excel under pressure, bounce back from adversity and use his emotions to play baseball in a way that changed the National Pastime forever.
Sun, April 15, 2012
by Dana Blackmer, Ph.D., CC-AASP filed under