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Jackie to be celebrated at Civil Rights Game

LOS ANGELES -- When the Dodgers participate in Saturday's Civil Rights Game, the Dodger who emerged as an inspiring hero from the civil rights movement will be well represented.

Rachel and Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson's widow and daughter, respectively, will be in attendance in Atlanta, where his Dodgers will take on Hank Aaron's Braves.

"We're delighted to support the Civil Rights Game and thrilled the Dodgers are playing the Atlanta Braves," Sharon Robinson said. "The breaking of the color barrier was one of the precursors to the civil rights movement. We're very happy Major League Baseball recognizes the movement. Having the Civil Rights Game allows us to move forward, while acknowledging the changes in baseball and in all of American society."

For the past 16 years, Sharon Robinson has served Major League Baseball as an educational consultant. She also is vice chair of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, founded in 1973 as a "vehicle to perpetuate the memory of Jackie Robinson through the advancement of higher education among underserved populations," according to the foundation's mission statement.

The foundation does not have an official role in the Civil Rights Game, but the linkage between Robinson's bold breakthrough of the color barrier in baseball and the movement that soon followed in American society is indisputable.

"It's certainly been a mantra of our family, not only to celebrate the success of the past, but to continue to be mindful of equality and what we're all striving for in diversity of the game and the world," Sharon Robinson said. "It's a great opportunity to recognize the heroes of the civil rights movement, but also to look forward and teach our young athletes how we got to this point.

"We hoped with the retiring of Jackie Robinson's number in 1997, and establishing a day to recognize his arrival in the Major Leagues, that players would begin to understand the connection to the past, and today I believe they do," Sharon said. "Like the Civil Rights Game, it is another example of helping understand the importance of our history and the sacrifices made by people who came before them, and to build on that."

The Civil Rights Game has been played since 2007. The first two were during Spring Training, but it's been held as a regular-season game since. The Dodgers will be participating for the first time Saturday at Turner Field.

Sharon Robinson said the event is one of several initiatives that can make the game more accessible to African-Americans.

"MLB is committed to diversity, and the Civil Rights Game is part of the league's role, as is the RBI program and the Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life program of our foundation," Sharon said. "They all fit together in a larger picture. And one of the goals is to attract a more diverse fan base, and get African-Americans into the stadium and into the seats and make them a part of the game."

Sharon said her family is also especially pleased that Major League Baseball is honoring two other heroes of the civil rights movement: Don Newcombe, Jackie's Brooklyn Dodgers teammate and current Dodgers executive, and Georgia congressman John Lewis.

Los Angeles Dodgers