In 2005, Time for Kids interviewed Sharon about her father Jackie Robinson and his contributions to baseball and civil rights.
Why was Jackie Robinson playing Major League Baseball so important?
When my father broke into the Major Leagues the country was segregated. That meant that black and white people were kept separate in most areas of life, including sports. When my father made it into the Major Leagues, he showed that regardless of skin color, your talent is what is important, and your contribution to your team. He was an extraordinary athlete and a pioneer.
How did Robinson’s career change baseball for African Americans?
Because of my father's success, other African Americans were brought into the game and eventually into other professional sports as well. His career also changed things for all of us because it helped teach us all to be open to people of other races and cultures.
How did he find the strength to continue playing even when people were insulting him and threatening his life?
He was committed to his overall mission, and his goals for creating change. He had a strong spiritual foundation, a strong mother, a strong, loving wife, and strong faith. All of those helped give him the strength to overcome those obstacles.
How was the atmosphere for a black player different back then?
Back then African Americans didn't have the option of playing in baseball's Major Leagues. You had to play in a separate league and that was unfair. It wasn't fair not to be able to play in the big leagues where the conditions were better. It was the ultimate dream for all baseball players to play in the Big Leagues. To be kept out because of color and not talent wasn't right.
What role did the Negro Leagues play in setting the stage for Jackie Robinson's career?
The Negro Leagues set the groundwork. They proved that African Americans could not only play great professional baseball but could also attract fans. The Negro Leagues gave black players the chance to improve their skills and play at a high level and be paid for it.
What would Jackie Robinson say if he saw the way blacks are part of baseball today?
My father died in 1972 and the teams were all integrated by then. But African Americans still did not have the opportunity to move beyond the playing field. Now we have moved into management and into ownership. But we still have to get more African Americans playing the game. There are fewer and fewer playing baseball. There are lots of people of color, but fewer African Americans. Other sports have become more popular for various reasons.
What was Jackie's greatest contribution to the game of baseball?
He was known for stealing bases. And he brought the art of stealing home to the Major Leagues. He was a great second baseman, and an all-around good athlete. When he was in college, baseball wasn't even his favorite sport. He loved football most. And he also played basketball and ran Track and Field.
What were his greatest strengths as a person?
He was an incredible husband, a loving father, a committed citizen, a strong businessman, and an advocate for fighting injustice in this country.
What kind of racism did Jackie Robinson face growing up?
He faced all the laws that kept black people from being a full citizen in this country not just when he was playing baseball, but as a young boy, as a teenager, and then in the army. Even as a young boy, he was standing up for his people and for their rights to be full citizens in this country. He was a proud black child and resented laws that restricted his ability to be a full citizen. When he was in the Army he once refused to go to the back of a bus and was brought to court for that. He spoke out against racism long before his baseball career.
How did he inspire you, his daughter?
He inspired me in lots of ways. He taught me to care about other people and to believe that social change is possible and that we should be a part of it. He taught me not to be afraid to speak out and to believe in something and stand up for it. He wanted me to find a career path where I could make a contribution to society. And he encouraged me in playing sports. I was an athlete also, and he was supportive of me swimming, skating, skiing, and playing basketball.
What will be he remembered for?
He will be remembered for a combination of his character and his performance as a baseball player.