News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Keep the Robinson tribute special

By Nancy Armour
Associated Press Writer

Setting aside a day each year to honor Jackie Robinson is wonderful. So is Major League Baseball’s decision to retire his No. 42 across the league.

Those tributes, however, are easily forgotten once April 15 comes and goes.

If baseball really wants to pay tribute to Robinson and the legacy he left us, every team should crack open their considerable wallets on Sunday and write a check to sponsor a Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar. Same goes for all the gazillionaires whose career paths would have taken a different turn if not for Robinson.

You really want to honor the man who changed baseball for the better? Then help his foundation level the playing field outside the ballpark.

“It’s a way that I think perpetuates the dream of an authentically inclusive society,” said Della Britton Baeza, president and chief executive officer of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

“That’s what Jackie wanted: ‘Just give me an opportunity, and I’ll show you I belong here.’ ”

A year after Robinson died in 1972, his wife Rachel started the foundation and the scholars’ program.

The idea was to give underprivileged minority students money for college along with a support system to help
them succeed at the highest levels.

Students receive $6,000 per year for tuition at the college of their choice.

Each March, all of the scholars go to New York for 41/2 days of networking and leadership seminars. They’re also exposed to cultural events like plays, ballets and operas.

“Every internship, every job I’ve had the last four years, I’ve gotten from the networking skills I learned from the Jackie Robinson Foundation,” said Judge Gardner III, who already has an engineering job lined up after he graduates from Washington University in St. Louis this spring.

The foundation’s 97 percent graduation rate is more than double the national average for minority students, and well above the average for all students.

More than 1,100 scholarships have been awarded, including 266 this academic year.

Graduates have gone on to become, among other things, a classical pianist, a partner at Goldman Sachs and the attorney for the Boston Red Sox.

One scholar, Marcus Ellison, was homeless for a brief time while growing up in Maine. Now he’s the president of a real estate development firm. He also started a nonprofit program that provides tutoring and college prep services to low-income high school students, and talked Bates College into giving a scholarship to one of the students.

All that, and Ellison is still a senior at New York University.

“We often talk about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and working as hard as you can on your own,” Ellison said. “But sometimes, no matter how hard you work or how talented you are, you need help from others because you might not even be aware of the opportunities out there.”

The best part? It doesn’t cost that much to give these kids a hand.

A $40,000 donation supports one student for four years. Up the donation to $200,000, and the scholarship goes on forever.

Yes, that’s a lot of money for most people. For a baseball team or a major league player, that’s pocket change. Alex Rodriguez could pick up the tab for three students with what he makes in one day alone.

“Doing our small share to give these young men and women an opportunity that perhaps they wouldn’t have otherwise, and then stepping back and watching them excel and do these marvelous things, that’s far and away the most noteworthy aspect of the partnership,” said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, whose team sponsors 42 scholars a year.

Right now, only five of the 30 major league teams — the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, White Sox and Texas Rangers — are sponsoring a scholar. MLB and some of its officers also give to the scholars’ program.

And the hundreds of players making an average of $2.94 million this year? Surely they’d like to show their gratitude for what Robinson did.

Guess not. Derek Jeter and Royce Clayton are the only current players on the scholars’ donor list.

This isn’t to say teams and players aren’t giving back. Every team has a department that doles out charitable grants and gifts. A-Rod donates to UNICEF and the Boys and Girls Clubs. Ken Griffey Jr. supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

But every year at this time, baseball proudly talks about how much Jackie Robinson meant to the game.

How, with dignity and class, he changed the course of American history by not only opening our national pastime to players of every race, but by opening our minds to the promise of a colorblind world.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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