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Jackie Robinson: A Legacy of Optimism

What do sport legends have to tell us today about living well and legacy?

Imagine you are the first African American to play in a professional sport in over 50 years. Imagine it came at a time when you were not welcome by most. Imagine the hatred and mistreatment you would have received from your own teammates and fans. Imagine how difficult it might have been to travel to Atlanta, Cincinnati and Philadelphia as an African American man in the US in the 1940s.

Much has been said and written about Jackie Robinson and what he endured and how he changed the American landscape. As most of us know, Jackie was the first African American to break the all-white baseball barrier.

In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Jackie about joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Major Leagues had not had an African American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. Jackie pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, the nation's preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.

The Reverend Karl Downs of Pasadena, California’s Scotts Methodist Church was a friend and mentor to young Jackie Robinson , leading him away from trouble and providing a positive role model. Jackie’s own deep character was the result of the tremendous hardships and turmoil that he experienced in youth and throughout his career. Did you ever wonder whom Jackie influenced in a personal way?

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Well, Jackie Robinson directly influenced one young athlete, also a baseball legend. And that legend ended up influencing so many more with his spirit of optimism and strength.

Ernie Banks broke into the Major Leagues in 1953 with the Chicago Cubs as their first African American player. For those who don't know Ernie Banks, he is "Mr. Cub." He played for 19 years for one major league baseball team -- the Chicago Cubs. He played for one owner, in one city, during the tenure of one mayor, in one stadium, under one light - the sun. He is an elite member of the baseball Hall of Fame and The 500 Home Run Club . His number is retired from the Chicago Cubs and hangs on the foul pole in Wrigley Field.

Mr. Banks is well known for his optimism and positive spirit. It is said that he coined the phrase "Let's play two," a phrase he used on game days to show his love for the game and his desire to play. It's worth noting that he played only day baseball in Wrigley Field (under the July and August heat) and he never won a championship with the Cubs -- but then again, no one had since 1908 – until 2016!

Related: What I Learned from My Friend Ernie Banks

Even with all his accomplishments, something happened in Ernie Banks’ career that gave him pause. He was forever changed one day in 1953, when Jackie Robinson, visiting Wrigley Field on his day off, told him three simple words that stayed with Ernie for more than a half a century. Jackie, the veteran, sought out Ernie, the rookie, and simply said, "Ernie, listen and learn.”

These few words are so powerful - listen and learn! Perhaps if we desire more wisdom, better relationships and greater outcomes in our life, we should "just listen and learn" more. Listen to our family. Listen to our customers. Listen to our team members and even listen to our rivals and enemies. And learn from what we hear. Then we can get intentional about purposeful work and meaningful relationships again. Then we can build genuine communities that transform lives.

Just listen and learn. Imagine your silence could be a shout to a non-listening world. Jackie lived it! Ernie learned it! Can we?

And that is why, Legacy Matters…