I’m a baseball guy, so for me to think that 42, The Jackie Robinson Story, is a great movie is no real surprise. It certainly goes beyond baseball.
But what might be a surprise is that in addition to Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, he very well may have also been the first big league ball player to be media trained, in 1947.
Brooklyn Dodgers’ executive Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson and forced the issue to have him play in the majors, hired Pittsburgh Courier sports editor Wendell Smith to travel with Robinson, to arrange housing with black families and to chronicle Robinson’s life for the Courier.
In a scene from the movie, just as Robinson was being doggedly peppered with questions from Smith, Robinson gets fed-up and wants to know why Smith keeps grilling him – over and over.
Robinson didn’t know it, but his confidant was actually media training him.
Smith’s response was something like this: “when you’re in the batter’s box, you want to see the pitches come in slowly… when you’re talking to the press, you want to see the questions come in slowly, too.”
What a great analogy to handling situations. Practice, practice, practice. And slow the game down.
Later in the movie, when Robinson was asked to participate in a photo shoot/press conference-type event with the racist manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ben Chapman, he was hesitant to do so.
Smith’s advice to Robinson was the same: “let the press event come to you slowly…” and Robinson handled it with class and professionalism that required tremendous self-confidence to remain on-point.
Just a little subtle observation about how media training was being used in the ‘40s to help one of America’s true pioneering heroes.