March 2, 2005

03 March 2005

U.S. President, Congress Honor "Fantastic and Noble" Sports Hero

Baseball's Jackie Robinson Receives Congressional Gold Medal Posthumously

More than a generation after his passing, Jackie Robinson -- the legendary baseball player who broke the sport's color barrier in the late 1940s -- received the Congressional Gold Medal at a U.S. Capitol ceremony March 2.

President Bush -- no stranger to the baseball diamond, having been managing general partner of the Texas Rangers before beginning his political career in the mid-1990s -- made the presentation to the family of the late star infielder, who died in 1972 at the age of 53.

Robinson, the son of sharecroppers in the U.S. state of Georgia, enjoyed a stellar collegiate athletic career in four sports at the University of California at Los Angeles. He then served in the U.S. Army before entering sport's professional ranks with the Kansas City Monarchs of the famed Negro Baseball League. Two years later, at the behest -- and cajoling -- of Branch Rickey, the legendary president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson became the first black player in major league baseball since segregation took hold in the sport in 1889.

The career that followed galvanized devotees not only of the Dodgers, but of the baseball and sports worlds overall. Lightning on the base-paths, daring and confrontational on defense and possessor of a powerful hitting ability, Robinson eventually was voted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Saluting the late superstar's widow, Rachel, and other family members, Bush called attention to Robinson's lifelong battle against racism as "one that shows what one person can do to hold America account -- to account to its founding promise of freedom and equality."

Following are excerpts of Bush's remarks at the U.S. Capitol:

(begin excerpt)

Office of the Press Secretary
March 2, 2005


The U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.

3:18 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: … I'm honored to be here for the -- to present the Congressional Gold Medal to Mrs. Robinson. It's a great tradition of our Congress to honor fantastic and noble Americans, and we're doing just the thing with Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

You know, he was a great ball player. Anybody who follows baseball knows how great he was -- fantastic statistics: MVP, all the big honors you could get. But his electricity was unbelievable. Think about this. This is a guy who inspired little seven-year-olds to dream of wearing "42" and dashing for home in Brooklyn, and a seven-year-old like me hoping to get his Topps baseball card, even though I was an avid Giants fan. He was an amazing guy. And his story was powerful then, and it is powerful today.

His story is one that shows what one person can do to hold America account -- to account to its founding promise of freedom and equality. It's a lesson for people coming up to see. One person can make a big difference in setting the tone of this country.

He always fought for what he called "first-class citizenship." That's an interesting phrase, isn't it -- "first-class citizenship." Not second-class, not third-class -- first-class citizenship for all. As John Kerry mentioned, it started in the Army. Obviously, it really manifested itself on the baseball field. After all, it was Branch Rickey who said he was looking for a man to cross the color line who could play baseball and had the character necessary to do so. Jackie Robinson had both. And that's why we're honoring him today.

I found Martin Luther King's quote about him interesting. I'm sure you will, too. He said, "He was a freedom rider before freedom rides." That's a pretty high compliment, when you think about it. To me, it just says, courage and decency and honor.

This son of Georgia sharecroppers was taught by his mother that the best weapon against racism was the use of his talent, his God-given talent, not to waste a minute, and he didn't. And that spirit, passed on from mother to son, and now son to family, still lives through the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The Jackie Robinson Foundation is a noble cause to help academically-gifted students of color go to college. I know the Dodgers will continue to support that foundation. I hope baseball continues to do so, as well.

It is my honor now to join Speaker Hastert and Senator Stevens in presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to Rachel Robinson, in the name of her husband, the great baseball star and great American, Jackie Robinson. (Applause.)

(The medal is presented.)

END 3:24 P.M. EST

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: