A SIGN OF THE (L.A.) TIMES: DOUG GLANVILLE, AND THE JACKIE ROBINSON EXPERIENCE
By Tom Hoffarth
Imagine what Jackie Robinson could have accomplished in his messaging with modern-day media platforms.
“It would have been amazing,” Doug Glanville says. “He was a prolific letter writer to start with — but he really was viral before there was viral, even with just the traditional media outlets covering him.”The 48-year-old former MLB outfielder in his latest role at ESPN considers himself to be a media multitasker, thanks to his “crash course in every way one can express ideas.” He’s also thankful to be back as part of the network’s litany of Jackie Robinson Day remembrances on Monday — including L.A. receiving the national coverage of the Dodgers-Reds contest at Dodger Stadium that will include Rachel Robinson and two of her children.
For NBCSportsChicago.com and The Athletic today, Glanville wrote about his life-long connection with the Robinson message. We are fortunate he had time for us as well to talk for an L.A. Times piece, not just about that but his college teaching and his return to ESPN.
As he was waiting in a Chicago airport Friday night to fly back home to Hartford, Conn., Glanville (the curator of www.dougglanville.com) also revealed more in this additional Q&A we have to offer:
Q: Explain more about your connection to Jackie Robinson.
A: My parents, particularly my mom as an educator as we grew up in North Carolina, were always working toward equity. She started the African American Educational Center in my hometown to provide educational opportunities and teachings for students when the school system was trying to figure out how to integrate black history into the curriculum. I always saw my parents on the front lines of fighting for justice and equity for all people. My hometown was beautiful in the ‘60s, voluntarily desegregated. That experience gave me groundwork for strong connection with the Jackie Robinson story.
When I was about to be drafted (by the MLB), I went to an African American Athletic Association meeting, a new pilot program that was starting up. It didn’t last long. But I was 20, and I got to meet Rachel Robinson. I was literally speechless. I also worked with (daughter) Sharon Robinson with the Breaking Barriers Project when I was with the Phillies. Later, (with ESPN), I got to go to Cuba and interview Rachel Robinson. Knowing my family was committed to things in the spirit of what Jackie Robinson fought for and represented, and then loving baseball and able to make a career out of it , it tied it all together for sure.
Q: What are your thoughts in how the Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated? Are you satisfied with enough players today knowing how they are connected?
A: They’ve done a nice job to keep awareness up. Everyone wears 42, and that’s still a powerful symbol and reflective of the idea of us being unified as a people. Jackie Robinson wasn’t just a black hero or just an African American who cared only about African American issues only. He tried to express an idea of equality for all and an integrated society. He certainly took his lumps and had many frustrations and took many risks.
Just thinking of how he had to break into the game versus the luxury or privilege I have in how to approach social responsibilities. When he broke in, he himself was the change. For being a man of color, that in and of itself was change. It was activism. It was the issue. There was a color line.
Generations later, I’m at least able to address some issues because of race, and not literally who I am and the color of my skin being the actual pioneering moment in a baseball context. I can’t imagine the experience just of playing and his color became a revolution. It’s a mind blowing responsibility. Later as a player, when I teach a college class, I can spend more time focusing on the issues that spin off of race. Sure there’s my experiences to come degree. A lot of players have been ‘first’ somewhere, maybe in a Little League or a Summer League. But not to the Jackie Robinson degree.
To me, the inspiration of Jackie Robinson is what he endured to bring that conversation to life and in his post career to raise his voice on issues until his death. What I experienced and what I try to bring attention to as an equitable experience is very minor compared to what he did and his family. I’m always inspired by his story and I learn more and more every day about what experiences he had and causes he fought for. Incredible what he did in such a short life.
Q: One of the stories you tell in your class is what happened to you at LAX in 2015. You wrote about it for The Atlantic. How do you remember all that?
A: That was pretty tough. I’m flying from Hartford to L.A. through Minneapolis, adn I met up with Joe Vanderford, an ESPN cameraman from North Carolina. Who is white. We land at LAX and agree to take a cab together downtown. I didn’t have bags but I’m waiting with Joe at baggage claim. It’s midnight. Joe comes to the head of the cab line, I’m standing behind him, the cab pulls up, Joe says the hotel we need to go to … I’m clearly with Joe. The trunk pops open and I went over to load the bag into the trunk. When the driver saw me, his face changed: “You take the bus. It’s $19.” He just kept saying and pointing across the street.
So what is this guy talking about? He doubled and tripled down. A young dispatch guy comes out, flustered, tells the driver: Sir, you have to take him. “You take the bus!” He keeps screaming. That just got him more upset. I kinda knew what was happening but tried to stay cool and diffuse it. Finally the dispatchers tries to get me in that cab, and I said, “I’m not taking this cab.” Joe is now so upset and stupified by what’s happening. He is seeing this in real time, this dynamic of race and tension, so unsolicited and unexpected. I had these experiences before but it was visceral for Joe to see it. I couldn’t explain it in any rational way.
I went back to the curb. A white passenger came up next with pull luggage and the driver then took him. So now it’s clear what going on.
As Joe and I are about to get into the next cab, a woman in reflective vest who works there, an African American woman, opens the cab door after Joe and I get in and she says: “You need to file a complaint. This is the third black man this has happened to on my shift … tonight. You need to do something.” I said, “Look, I’ll file a complaint but you’re preaching to the choir. I knew was problematic for me, but now this is becoming a collective cause.
I called people. I looked up laws, a got the head of LAX and talked to her. To her credit she ran with i and corroborated everything. After I wrote the Atlantic story, the L.A. City Council called an emergency meeting, evaluated it, got a police sting undercover operation set up, so plain-clothed riders saw it. On the first day, they experience a 25-to-30 percent ride refusal rate. That’s shocking for the fourth largest airport in the world and one that’s very diverse. That hit home for everyone how it starts small and it’s a systemic issue drivers felt they could get away with it. LAX supported the string, the taxi conglomerate got together, and now they do quarterly checks if people holding to standards. They put in zero tolerance polices.
It’s so powerful and rewarding and in many ways redeeming. It’s a great example of the power of trying to bring everyone into a common cause to improve upon it — not just, “I’ll get this driver fired.” It was a collective success.
So when I think of Jackie Robinson, I’m always struck by his patience and focus and his family. I think I took a lot of pages out of that – take a deep breath, understand it, a lot of aspects of society has made strides since Robinson’s days and we still have a lot of work to do. But the process to bring in as many people invested in it allows it to have legs and creates a more enduring possibility.