May 3, 2013 ~ 23 Iyyar 5773 (38th Day of the Omer)
I recently saw the film “42” about the baseball life of Jackie Robinson. His number 42 is the only number retired by every MLB team, honoring his contribution to breaking down the baseball racial barrier. The movie was a powerful reminder of how far we have come in 60 years as a nation.
A turning point in the film occurs when one of the players asks Jackie why he never showers with the rest of the team. Jackie explains that he doesn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. His teammate responds, “Jackie, take a shower with a me!” Jackie’s cockeyed reaction, and the awkward, humorous exchange that follows is supposed to be a funny moment to relieve the tension and highlight the acceptance Jackie has won among his teammates. But it struck an odd chord for me. After all, here was a film focusing on the civil rights issue of the day – racial integration, and yet it casually included a gay joke – arguably the civil rights issue of today.
Obviously, in 1947, the LGBTQ agenda was not even in the public eye. Yet here we are, 65 years later, a midst a national conversation about gay rights, where a consistent percentage rise in the polls (now at about 53%) shows nationwide support for gay marriage. And, for the first time, we have a professional basketball player, Jason Collins, who has openly declared that he is gay. Collins wore #98 for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards this past year, a number he chose to honor the slain gay student Matthew Shepard who was killed in 1998 in one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes ever committed.
Although it seemed unnecessary to include gay humor in a film about civil rights, especially in today’s climate, I have to at least appreciate living in a country where it is possible to confront these types of issues, despite the long road one may have to travel. If black civil rights weren’t on the front burner during women’s suffrage, and gay marriage wasn’t on the docket during the black civil rights era, I wonder what other national issues might be hiding right in front of our eyes, ones that we might only come to embrace 65 years from now? Obviously, there have been many flags of justice waved for environmental protection, worker’s rights, health care, poverty, education, etc, but is there something else that the majority of our society is still blind to? Unless, of course, we are so self-confident as to assume that there couldn’t possibly be any further civil rights agendas left to be tackled…
Shabbat Shalom! See you in shul,