42 – Movie Review
In our culture where the celebrity has usurped the hero in terms of our praise and adoration, in a time where we are so skeptical of those who might deserve our praise, always waiting for the catch, the fall, that we bypass the issue altogether by elevating those whose flaws are evident to all, those who have no real merit to speak of in the first place—it’s in these times that a movie like 42, which heralds the true character and strength of a few men who changed history, is so unspeakably refreshing.
It’s the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play professional baseball, and Mr. Rickey—the man who broke all the rules and recruited him. It’s a story about breaking down the walls of racism and segregation, but it’s also bigger than that. It’s a story that challenges us to think about what it takes to make a lasting difference in the world.
There may have been a lot of other people who might have wanted to see the walls of racism broken down, especially in professional sports. So, why were these two men the ones to make that happen? Excellence. If Mr. Rickey had not had a position of authority, his dream to change things would not have had a lot of impact. As a respected manager of a pro-league team, however, he was able to make the decision to incorporate an African American on the team, and to force others (like his coaches who didn’t like the decision) to comply and do so with grace.
Mr. Rickey was very, very careful about who he chose to be the first, the pioneer African American in pro-baseball. He had to choose such a gifted, talented athlete that his ability as a baseball player would eclipse his color as a man. He also had to choose someone whose character was strong enough to withstand the persecution that would come. As he told Jackie, “I want a player who’s got the guts NOT to fight back. Your enemy will be out in force and we cannot stoop to his low ground. Show them by being a great baseball player. Like our Savior, you gotta have the guts to turn the other cheek. Can you do it?” Jackie was chosen because of his excellence – as a man and as a player. There were plenty of men who were excellent in one area or the other, but Jackie was excellent in them all, and that was the difference.
One of the problems in the younger generations in the American church is that they don’t often see how their faith relates to their every day life. How does being a Christian affect them as an accountant, or a scientist, or an artist, or a business man? 42 does a beautiful job of showing how faith can be (should be) an integral part of everything we do. Mr. Rickey is constantly referring to the Bible and his faith as he navigates very difficult situations, and helps others to do so as well.
In one instance, he tells Jackie “You’re the one living the sermon. 40 days. In the Wilderness.” In other words, he’s encouraging Jackie to identify with Jesus and his 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted and tested by Satan. In another situation, when an opposing coach is refusing to play the game if an African American is on the field, Mr. Rickey asks him, “Do you think God likes baseball?” Of course, the coach is confused by this, and Mr. Rickey explains, “It means someday when God asks why you did not take the field and you say it’s because of Jackie Robinson, it might not be a sufficient reply.” Another time he challenges what someone believes about the Bible, reminding them that it does say to love your neighbor about 8 times (and then he leaves them to think about how they might need to apply that to their racist approach to baseball). He has a very practical, every day approach to his faith and expects to live his faith in every area of his life, even his work, and he challenges others to do the same.
Purpose: Built to Last
Jackie comments that he was “built to last.” Of all the things in the movie, that made the biggest impact on me. Jackie had a sense of purpose in how God made him. God made him strong. God made him an athlete. God made him steady, with an inner strength. Jackie had a strong sense that he was made for a purpose, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
In the book of Ezekiel, God tells Ezekiel that the people of Israel “are not willing to listen…because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.” But then God talks about Ezekiel. “Behold I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead.” God made Ezekiel just as hard and stubborn as the people of Israel, so that he could speak to them and get through to them. Jackie was made like Ezekiel. He was made with a physical ability which gave him the platform, but he was also made with the emotional and mental and spiritual fortitude to withstand the persecution and opposition he would face. He was built in such a way that he could last through the fiery trials, and Jackie knew that. He lived with that sense of purpose.
Jackie asked Mr. Rickey why. Why did he decide to bring an African American on to his team, knowing the hornets nest he was going to kick up as a result. Mr. Rickey made a comment or two about how it was going to change baseball and how the African American player was going to better the game and win him championships and therefore money… and that was all true, but it wasn’t the real truth. It wasn’t the real reason Mr. Rickey was so passionate about breaking down segregation in baseball.
Mr. Rickey tells a story of seeing someone in baseball “laid low, broken” because of racism and he “didn’t do enough to help.” He explains to Jackie that “something was broken in the game” for him at that point. But he tells Jackie, “You, you let me love baseball again. Thank you.” Mr. Rickey was always bothered by racism, whether in Germany, or in America – racism tainted what he loved. He had a vision of change and victory over racism… and baseball was one place he could do something about it. The thing is, as he began to do what he could do, by effecting change in baseball, it set a domino into motion that began to affect a lot of other dominoes. Things he couldn’t have done began to happen, and change began–all because of baseball.
I’ve already mentioned that excellence got them there. It was because of excellence that Mr. Rickey was in his position, and it was because of excellence that he chose Jackie to be the first African American baseball player. Excellence didn’t just get them there, however, it kept them there. I’m calling this faithfulness. They had to do the work, faithfully, consistently. The proof was in the pudding, so to speak. Their way to fight against the hatred, the animosity and racism was to win. It’s hard to argue with results. If Jackie hadn’t been as good as his other teammates, then it wouldn’t have mattered. Jackie had to be better. He had to be such a winner that other teams would want him on their team. This meant not quitting when the opposition got heated. This meant not taking the easy route. This meant not fighting back. This meant being having an attitude of faithfulness—faithful to the game, to his character, to his God, to the other African Americans he represented, to Mr. Rickey who had faith in him, to his teammates who were thrown into this with him… He had to be steady…and he had to be amazing—and that is where the real battle was one.
Attitude and Action
A dear friend of mine (and an AMAZING horse trainer), Henry Elam, says, “Don’t ask, ‘Why me?’ Ask, ‘What can I do to make it better?’” That’s how Jackie lived. He didn’t feel sorry for himself, he simply lived with that attitude of, “What can I do to make it better?” He applied that to parenting (promising his new baby that he would never leave, the way his father left him), to baseball, to relationships and teammates, to racism… He felt like in the end all that would really matter was what he did. So he worked hard to do things that mattered, to do the things that would make things better.
There are so many other beautiful moments in this film. Moments of character, of love, of power…moments where men stood up for something and made a difference. (Who can forget PeeWee standing with his arm around Jackie in that game, saying maybe someday they’ll all wear 42 so no one can tell them apart?) I won’t try to dissect them all, but I hope I’ve gotten the conversation started, at least. I sat in that movie thinking about the men who made such a profound difference in the world through something as benign as baseball. It wasn’t a political move, it wasn’t a religious platform—it was just men doing what they loved, with character…and doing it to the glory of God, and it was world-changing.
Questions for Discussion
- Are there areas in your life in which you would say you truly are excellent? What areas in your life would you like to become excellent? What can you do to become excellent?
- Is faith part of every area of your life? Why or why not? If not, how can faith become a part of every area of your life?
- Jackie felt like God built him to last. How has God made you? What purpose do you think God may have had in mind when he made you?
- As you look at your life and at the world around you, what are the things you see that are “broken”? What things would you like to see change?
- What can you do to make it (or them) better?
- How do you think that you can impact the world by doing the things that you love, and doing them well?
- What character qualities stood out to you in the movie, 42?
Click here to read a collection of quotes from 42.
Review by Stacey Tuttle