Making a name in the big leagues
It was one of those streams of thought. Major League Baseball recently recognized the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier in the sport. Then, I was listening to some old-time country music when a Charley Pride song came on.
Most everyone knows now that Charley Pride is black, the only true country music superstar who is. He's also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. However, when his first records were released (after he failed to make a career in baseball, coincidentally), his race was kept a secret. It wasn't until after listeners had fallen in love with the new voice that they learned he was black.
Back to that stream of thought ... I wondered if people referred to Pride as "the Jackie Robinson of country music." A quick Google search pulled up a few hits, including one on the site of the hall of fame.
Then, I thought, "How many other people have been referred to as 'the Jackie Robinson of' whatever?" Another search drew 11,800 hits, including:
+ Paul Revere Williams, born in 1894 (so he actually predated Robinson) began a career in architecture when blacks just did not do so. Among his work is the iconic theme building at Los Angeles International Airport.
+ Wendell Scott began as a taxi driver, was a mechanic in the Army, started racing cars and eventually made it to the NASCAR Grand National, now known as the Nextel Cup. In 1963, he won a race in Jacksonville, Fla. Apparently, he is the only black driver to win a NASCAR event.
+ Charlie Sifford became the first black member of the PGA Tour, but he reportedly argued against comparisons with Robinson. His reasoning was that many followed into baseball but not into golf. While Tiger Woods is a most notable exception, it is still true today. The same argument has been made concerning Charley Pride and country music.
+ Casey Martin was suggested as "the Jackie Robinson of disability" for his struggles against the PGA Tour. With a disability that keeps him from walking long distances, he eventually won Supreme Court approval to use a golf cart in a competition.
+ Nat "King" Cole once referred to himself as "the Jackie Robinson of television" in an article about why he dropped his 1956-57 weekly variety show. The struggles against those who did not want him to succeed became too much of a burden, he said.
+ Bill Garrett was the first black to break into major college basketball, joining the team at Indiana University in 1947. He went on to become the third black drafted in the NBA.
+ Althea Gibson has been referred to as "the Jackie Robinson of tennis" for breaking the color barrier in 1950. From 1956-58, she won five singles and six doubles titles at Grand Slam events.
+ Dr. Walter McAfee was a mathematician and physicist who first calculated the speed of the moon as part of a 1940s experiment to determine if a high frequency radio signal could penetrate the outer atmosphere of Earth. He has been nicknamed "the Jackie Robinson of space."
+ Charlie Burrell joined the Denver Symphony Orchestra in 1949, overcoming the color barrier to earn the designation as "the Jackie Robinson of classical music." He later played with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
+ Katie Couric, reportedly, was dubbed "the Jackie Robinson of network news" by CBS executive Les Moonves after she became the first woman network anchor. Uh, think I have to join the critics in saying that's a bit of a stretch.
+ Marc Fleury, according to at least one commentator, could be called "the Jackie Robinson of open-source software." I have to take your word on that.
Steve Martaindale is a self-syndicated columnist. Write him at penmanmail-steve@yahoo.