Denzel Washington honors Jackie Robinson with a speech at MLB All-Star Game

It wasn’t a long speech, but it came home: Denzel Washington’s tribute to Jackie Robinson — who wears Robinson’s No. 42 at Dodger Stadium — elicited an exciting response from the audience, on a day he also honored Robinson’s widow, Rachel, on her 100th birthday.

Speaking Tuesday night at the stadium before the 2022 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, Washington celebrated this day in April 1947 When Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he blurred the baseball color barrier with “high talent and unwavering personality.”

The actor also celebrated Robinson’s activity, and his many endeavors outside of sports.

“He changed baseball and so much more. What he carried with him, and what he represented, was huge,” Washington said, citing Robinson’s decorating career.

“Outside the field, Jackie Robinson has challenged us to become better versions of ourselves: business leader, family man, activist, and Hall of Famer,” Washington said.

Those words were later amplified by a tribute to Rachel Robinson: Happy Birthday cheers on the field led by the current Dodgers player. Mookie Betts, and a video narrated by actress Octavia Spencer, who described the Robinsons as a pair of pioneers for their “unstoppable path forward.”

“His trial was her trial. His pain was her pain. I read the hate mail.” Spencer said.

Rachel and Jackie Robinson were newlyweds when they traveled together to Florida for spring training for the Brooklyn Dodgers farm team. Rachel previously described to NPR how she was “terrified” by the daily racism they faced, from being traumatized by flights and being kept away from restaurants to being forced to sit in the back of a bus in Jacksonville.

The Robinsons have been active in civil rights, and they have used their position to help others, from business, housing and banking, to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which Rachel founded to help minority students attend college and find their way to jobs.

Washington concluded his speech with an eye on the bigger picture:

“[Jackie Robinson] He said that life is not a spectator sport, and he lived that motto to the fullest. Whether it’s charging baselines or standing tall for opportunity and justice, the number 42 shoots a trail that will light the way for people in all walks of life and every color.

“And to this very day – every generation – this inspiration, this profound influence looms as much as it did 75 years ago.”

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