Denzel Washington honors Jackie Robinson with a speech at the MLB All-Star Game
It wasn't a long speech, but it hit home: Denzel Washington's homage to Jackie Robinson — wearing Robinson's No. 42 in Dodger Stadium — drew a stirring response from the crowd, on a day that also honored Robinson's widow, Rachel, on her 100th birthday.
Speaking Tuesday night on the field before the 2022 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, Washington commemorated the day in April 1947 when Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, obliterating baseball's color barrier "with supreme talent and unshakable character."
The actor also celebrated Robinson's activism, and his many pursuits outside of sports.
"He changed the game of baseball and so much more. What he carried with him, what he represented, was towering," Washington said, citing Robinson's decorated career.
"Beyond the field, Jackie Robinson challenged us to become better versions of ourselves: business leader, family man, activist, Hall of Famer," Washington said.
Those words were later amplified by two tributes to Rachel Robinson: an on-field happy birthday cheer led by current Dodgers player Mookie Betts, and a video piece narrated by actress Octavia Spencer, who called the Robinsons a pair of pioneers on "the unstoppable way forward."
"His trial was her trial. His pain was her pain. She read the hate mail," Spencer said.
Rachel and Jackie Robinson were newlyweds when they traveled together to Florida for spring training at a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team. Rachel previously described to NPR how she was "horrified" by the everyday racism they encountered, from being bumped off flights and turned away from restaurants to being forced to sit in the back of the bus in Jacksonville.
The Robinsons were active in civil rights, and they leveraged their position to help others, from business, housing and banking ventures, to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which Rachel founded to help minority students attend college and find their way to careers.
Washington concluded his speech with an eye to the bigger picture:
"[Jackie Robinson] said that life is not a spectator sport, and he lived that motto to the fullest. Whether it was charging down the baselines or standing tall for opportunity and justice, number 42 blazed a trail that would light the way for people of every walk of life and every color.
"And to this very day — every generation — that inspiration, that profound impact looms just as large today as it did 75 years ago."
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