Hank Aaron and Changing the World

As I sat down to write today’s reflection, my news blotter informed me of the death of Hank Aaron.

I’m a Georgia girl. When the Braves were terrible and I played little league, I sold chicken-q tickets to be able to go to the Braves stadium to play catch on the field before a game. That’s when Dale Murphy was the only player’s name that anyone could remember. It was also the days when we would watch “Chief Noc-A-Homa” run out of his teepee to celebrate a home run. As children we were completely unaware of the profoundly tragic irony of watching that racist performance in the very place Hank Aaron called “home” for so long.

I remember learning of Hank Aaron first as a baseball legend. He was the stuff of myth. I remember being utterly confused and somewhat disappointed to realize he owned a chain of car dealerships. A hero shouldn’t do anything as pedestrian as pedaling automobiles.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I understood the quiet resistance and activism Hank Aaron exhibited. He became a hero not just for his baseball acumen but also for his courage and fortitude.

This excerpt from Biography.com offers a window into the resistance Aaron faced playing the game he loved:

“As Aaron drew closer to home run No. 714, the chase to beat the Ruth’s record revealed that world of baseball was far from being free of the racial tensions that prevailed around it. Letters poured into the Braves offices, as many as 3,000 a day for Aaron. Some wrote to congratulate him, but many others were appalled that a Black man should break baseball’s most sacred record. Death threats were a part of the mix. Still, Aaron pushed forward. He didn’t try to inflame the atmosphere, but he didn’t keep his mouth shut, either, speaking out against the league’s lack of ownership and management opportunities for minorities. “On the field, Blacks have been able to be super giants,” he once stated. “But, once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again.”

When is a sport not just a sport? When is a job not just a job? When is a dream so much more than it appears?

Today I am reminded how the world changes by giant personalities making grand gestures as leaders, forging the path, but also how it changes because faithful people won’t let ignorance stop them. The world changes because every vocation offers opportunities to do things a better way. Every game we play, every lesson we teach, every second we coach, every meeting we have, every moment spent in re-creation brings opportunities to either add to the dysfunction or breathe air to help lift an entire system.

I give thanks today for our “local” hero Hank Aaron for making a game more than a game and teaching this little Georgia girl so much, simply through his dedication and faithfulness.

We won’t all be superstars. We won’t all have statues erected in our honor and have our names sweep across the internet on the day we die. But we all have opportunities. We all choose everyday what kind of world we create around us. We all are game changers, no matter how quiet we think those changes may be. The question is not how we will change the world around us, but what the quality of that change will be.

Peace, friends.

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