U.S. Still Strives For Equal ‘Equality’

The world turns.

The biopic about Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson’s partnership in integrating major league baseball, 42, will win no awards at next year’s Oscars. But it will jog memories and teach the young.

I was 4 years old on opening day 1947 when Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first black to play Major League Baseball. At that age, I’d yet to collect a baseball card or scan a box score.

A few years later, I was doing both, but by then Robinson had been joined by other blacks on playing fields in both leagues. As a resident of Gary, Ind., who had time for Robinson? I was a fan of a young Cubs shortstop named Ernie Banks.

But Robinson absorbed the worst hits: the death threats, the beanballs, the trash talk from white fans, players and managers. Worst, perhaps, he endured hostility from his own teammates.

Robinson answered it all with performance. During his 10-year career in the majors, always with the Dodgers, Robinson hit .311, clubbed 137 home runs, drove in 734, and stole 197 bases. He drove opposing pitchers mad, proclaiming every day on every play that he acknowledged no one better than he, on the field or off.

When I was 14, my parents moved us to a small town in southwestern Michigan. My baseball allegiances shifted from the Chicago teams to the Detroit Tigers. In the early years of my Tiger mania, I feasted on the exploits of hitters Harvey Kuenn and Al Kaline, and pitchers Mickey Lolich and Denny McClain. Haoles all.

Last year, the Tigers won the American League pennant. Many pick them to repeat this year. African-Americans hit first, second and fourth in their 2013 batting order, the third spot belongs to Miguel Cabrera, a Venezuelan and perhaps baseball’s best active player. On most game days, four of the last five Detroit hitters are Hispanics as well. The ninth is a fellow named Matt Tuiasosopo.

Yep, the world turns. Take away blind, ignorant racism and the inequality it wreaks, and talent alone triumphs within the bounds of a baseball park, a football field, a basketball court. It’s the beauty of sport …

Twenty years ago last week, Hawaii jurists did their part to give the world a nudge.

Again, the issue was equality, this time marriage equality. In Baehr v. Lewin, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that state laws banning same-sex marriages violated the equal protection clause of the state Constitution. The state, Associate Justice Steven Levinson wrote in the majority opinion, needed to show a “compelling state interest” to justify the ban. By a 3 to 2 vote, the court decided that the state hadn’t done so.

Conservative churches launched a firestorm of protest against the court’s decision. Ministers marched their congregations to the Capitol demanding that marriage be limited to opposite-sex couples. In 1998, they got their wish.

Thus, Hawaii led the country in striking down a law against same-sex marriage, but it also led the country in vehement reaction against such a ruling. The reaction spread. In 1996, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed on the Defense of Marriage Act.

But the world turns. Today, 16 countries and 10 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. The president of the United States and Hawaii’s governor support legalization; according to recent polls, so too do a majority of Americans.

The United States Supreme Court will be heard from next month.