42 – The True Story of an American Legend: Right Movie, Wrong Reason

jackieIf you paid $10 to see 42, and you expected to see the story of anyone other than Jackie Robinson, one of two things likely happened:

  1. You went to the right movie, but for the wrong reason
  2. You missed a great movie … and that’s a shame

Maybe, both.

Coincidentally, sports media reporter Ed Sherman fell victim to both of those circumstances. In a column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University Sherman seemed disappointed by the fact that 42  “… hardly captures the totality of (Wendell) Smith’s role in integrating baseball and his overall impact on the life of the baseball legend.”

A quick refresher for younger generations who might be asking the question: Who is Wendell Smith? He was an African-American sportswriter who recommended Robinson to Branch Rickey. Smith was also a victim of discrimination like many working black men and women of the generation. He wasn’t allowed in the press box at Forbes Field and wasn’t welcomed in the all-white Baseball Writers Association of America but, like Robinson, he broke the color barrier in sports journalism, becoming the first African-American member of the BBWAA in 1948.

There is no question, Wendell Smith is a part of sports journalism history. Civil Rights history. Black history. Baseball history. Yes, Smith played a central role in creating an opportunity for Robinson, but this 128-minute movie is not about Wendell Smith or Branch Rickey or Rachel Robinson, it’s about Jackie Robinson. Sure, each of these people helped shape Robinson’s life but the story, the movie, is about Robinson. The tag line to the movie should give it away: The True Story of an American Legend.

Meanwhile, Eric Deggans, TV and Media Critic for the Tampa Bay Times, contributor to the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University and Sherman’s colleague, selfishly failed to understand 42. He confessed,  “… the journalist in me also wished we could have seen a bit more of the media story; namely, how Rickey and Smith managed the media to make Robinson’s quest look noble as possible to uneasy white baseball fans … it’s a bit of pipe dream to wonder what might have happened if Smith got more screen time — even if the intimate story of a quick-tempered Robinson and the activist sportswriter who helped sell him to the world might have been the different take critics were looking for.”

For the longest time there was a sense of frustration because no one could sell Jackie Robinson’s story idea to Hollywood. Not Spike Lee. Not Robert Redford. Then, finally, director Brian Helgeland comes along and gets it done. And what happens? Critics want equal screen (and story) time for Wendell Smith. If you plan on forking out your $10 for a ticket to see 42 this weekend please, remember, this is a movie about 42 — Jackie Robinson.

Mr. Sherman, Mr. Deggans, with all due respect, you missed a great movie.

About John Strubel 43 Articles
My name is John Strubel and I have been a Mets fan since 1972. Professionally, I have been a working member of the media since 1987. In addition to media relations and broadcast work for the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays minor league affiliates, my career spans 25 years in the radio industry as a on-air personality, program director and sports-talk show host. You can reach me at john@johnstrubel.com or on Twitter @johnstrubel