Sharon Robinson says both her father and the actor, who portrayed the baseball legend in ’42,’ had short lives but immense impact.
Chad felt the shadow of heroism after meeting my mom, Rachel.
Both Chad and my father were … I don’t think they would describe themselves as heroes. They’d see themselves as doing their job and doing it the best they can and carrying a weight on their shoulders. There’s so much responsibility when you are a pioneer or when you are playing the role of a pioneer and a hero. It was important to Chad that he get all aspects of this story correct: the strength of my father’s character, how difficult it was to suppress your voice — especially someone who was so outspoken; and that you’re doing it for the larger good; and the anger you feel, and yet you can’t express that anger on the field when you’re being attacked and you have to find ways to release it and still hold up your pride. Chad understood all of that. And when you add Black Panther, he was uplifting a people and bringing the African connectedness to Black people in America.
All of that was who he was. He was committed to history.
I do not recommend [1950’s] The Jackie Robinson Story, even though my father plays himself. I recommend 42. I’ve been with Major League Baseball for 25 years, and after 42 came out, I’d be on the field and players and managers would all come up to me and say, “I thought I understood the story, and now I get it.” I hear that from children when I go to schools; they admired Jackie Robinson as a result of watching 42. They admired Chad as an actor, but they got Jackie Robinson in ways they had not gotten him in the past — and they got the times.
[Jackie] had a good foundation — he had a strong mother and a tremendous partner in my mom. Branch Rickey looked at all that, and he was the right person at that moment. Just as Chad was the right person when he was brought in to 42 and elevated it not just as an actor but as an activist, by using his art to be an activist.
I’m sure Chad realized he was a hero to many. When my mom and I went to the Apollo Theater to see him [in 2018] after Black Panther, he knew how important he was in that role — and that was even more powerful than playing Black heroes. He became the hero. The powerful one. There’s no doubt in my mind that he knew how important it was to the Black community in particular and to Marvel fans and kids in general. We needed a superhero, and to believe in them as much as we believe in our pioneers. In our family, Chad is a superhero.
I see parallels between Chad and Jackie. It’s eerie. To have him die on Jackie Robinson Day — after baseball had to find a new date because of COVID … I couldn’t talk. They both had short lives; my father died at 53. The intensity of their lives, the impact they had on so many people, the importance of finding uplifting ways to celebrate African American history and to stay in the game right to the very end. They were two very courageous and committed men, and their lives were meant to intercede. And I’m very thankfully that they did.
Sharon Robinson, the daughter of Jackie and Rachel Robinson, is an author, educational consultant for MLB and vice chair of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.