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04/16/08 1:13 AM ET

Nation should honor Robinson

MLB's ceremonies are fitting, but achievement deserves more

The thing about Jackie Robinson Day is that it ought to be bigger.

It should be more than professional baseball players wearing No. 42. More than ceremonies at baseball games. Those are nice, those are fitting, those are well-meant, but Jackie Robinson Day should be a national holiday.

Yes, I know, I know, April 15 is already taken in the federal sense, this being the deadline for filing tax returns. Tough break.

Let's get things in their proper order of priority. Give Jackie Robinson April 15. Move the filing date back a day. This would send the right message to Americans of all races, creeds and income brackets.

Of course, it is right and proper for Major League Baseball to celebrate the integration of the game, just as this year, the 61st anniversary of Robinson's arrival with the Brooklyn Dodgers will be celebrated. This was baseball's best moment, but it was a breakthrough not just for the game, but for American society.

Contemplating the larger issue involved, one recalls the comments of White Sox general manager Ken Williams leading up to this year's Civil Rights Game.

"So often when I hear the term 'civil rights,' it's referred back to past days," Williams said. "I would just like to remind everyone who is reporting on the game that we still have civil rights issues in this country that we are dealing with on a daily basis right now."

That's the thing. It is one thing to celebrate what happened with Jackie Robinson, and basically say: "Baseball did the right thing in 1947. Baseball became integrated before this nation's armed services, before this nation's schools. Good for baseball."

It would be better to take this example, when one individual and one institution had the fortitude to make a change, into the present, and ask: "What still needs to be done?"

Quite a bit, as it turns out. The Jackie Robinson example should not be simply a nice historical reference point, but a living, breathing suggestion of where the rest of us need to go next.

This is a society in which prominent people still make outrageous statements about racial matters. One example that unavoidably leaps to mind is that of Geraldine Ferraro, once a candidate for vice president of this entire nation. She said, of the fact that Barack Obama was leading in delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination:

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position ... . He happens to be very lucky to be who he is."

What Ms. Ferraro said would be the equivalent of saying in 1947: "Robinson is only getting this chance with the Dodgers because he isn't white."

It is apparently possible to run for the second highest office in the land, to be a public figure in American life, and to still understand nothing of contemporary American society, or for that matter, of American history.

The idea that African-Americans are catching breaks based on race still has some adherents among the less evolved elements of the Caucasian population. But this notion conveniently ignores the historical facts of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, institutional racism, in other words roughly everything that happened with race in North America since the white man made an appearance on these shores.

That is why the example of Jackie Robinson, which is larger than a baseball example, ought to be officially larger than a baseball example.

Everybody in America ought to be wearing No. 42 on April 15 or at least thinking about No. 42 on April 15. Everybody in America ought to thinking not only about what it meant in 1947, but what it still means today, thinking not only about the gains that were made then, but the issues that still need to be resolved now.

Jackie Robinson Day should be a national holiday. One of the few activities that should go on as usual would be baseball games, which would make the Robinson Day celebrations at the ballparks even more central.

The example of Jackie Robinson says that one man's courage, and one institution's willingness to change can make a huge difference, not only in a sport but in a society. That example is too large, too good, and too relevant to be confined to ballparks. It ought to be celebrated on a truly nationwide basis.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.