Jackie Robinson. (AP Photo/William J. Smith)
Sometimes it’s all just too damn much. First came word this week that the famed Coney Island statue of Jackie Robinson, standing alongside Pee Wee Reese as sporting symbols of racial progress, had been defaced, with “die n***ers,” “f*ck Jackie Robinson and all n***ers,” and “Heil Hitler” scrawled across it. It’s quite the capstone to a summer that started with the sweetly hopeful biopic, 42, about Robinson’s early career and post-racial promise. There is no doubt if Robinson still walked among us, he wouldn’t be shocked at the vandalism of his statue. He’d grit his teeth and set to cleaning it with his bare hands as a vein throbbed dangerously on his temple. This is the world—and the country—Jackie Robinson knew all too well.
The vandalizing of the Jackie Robinson/Pee Wee Reese monument comes days after Riley Cooper, a middling Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver, was caught on a cellphone camera angrily yelping that he was going to “fight every n***er” after a (black) security guard wouldn’t let him backstage at a Kenny Chesney concert. Cooper has since gone on a tearful apology tour. Tim Tebow—his former college teammate—has pledged to “pray for him” and the Eagles want him to go through mandated sensitivity training as he strains to keep his job.
There is no connection between Jackie Robinson and Riley Cooper’s scramble to stay employed, except for the ones seen—somehow—by some of the deep thinkers on sports radio. Several sports radio commentators compared Cooper and his post-slur pariah status with Robinson’s lonely isolation when he joined the Majors in 1947. They implored Eagles quarterback Michael Vick to give us a “Pee Wee Reese moment” of reconciliation and put his arm around Riley Cooper’s shoulders in front of the world. “We need to build bridges and stop the divisions,” they said. (I apologize for the lack of links but I was driving at the time. I was just glad to get home without crashing.) This is almost too stupid for words, but I’ll leave it at this: the only way Jackie Robinson and Riley Cooper should ever be in the same sentence is if you say, “If Jackie Robinson was alive, I bet he stares a hole through Riley Cooper.”