Find Your Branch Rickey

One of my favorite sports movies is “42” I mentioned to my wife after the movie that “every kid in America should see this movie.” If you haven’t seen it, watch it with your kids!

I thought more about the movie during a morning run and realized that every entrepreneur should watch the movie too. I won’t equate starting a company to breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball in the late ‘40’s, but there are some parallels in trying to do something that has not been done before, and particularly the determination and sacrifices that are required to get there.

I already knew the story of Jackie Robinson – even though he died when I was only 6 years old, everyone knew what he had done for baseball, and by the early 70’s, many of the game’s stars were Black. However, I didn’t know much at all about Branch Rickey. I knew his name, and that he signed Jackie, but I didn’t know why. I also had no idea how much support (beyond financial) that he provided to Jackie during that first horrible year when Jackie was harassed, threatened and constantly torn down.

While watching the movie, it seemed that every time Jackie experienced a particularly tough situation, Branch Rickey was there to support him. Ultimately, that support helped Jackie become an icon in the sports world and an ambassador of goodwill.  I’m sure that was a little bit of extra Hollywood flavoring, but I did appreciate the context – while Jackie was the front guy out there, there was also a man behind the scenes that provided the support and encouragement that helped Jackie during his darkest moments.

Every entrepreneur needs this type of person. Starting and running a business is extremely hard.  Most of the time you have people telling you what you’re doing can’t be done, or that you’re doing it wrong, or that you’re simply crazy.  Most startups will go through the hype cycle – including my favorite step – the trough of disillusionment. It’s imperative that you have that person that believes in you, that will encourage you and help you through your own entrepreneurial dark days.

Of course it is always helpful if this person is supporting your business financially (like Branch Rickey did for Jackie) but I don’t think that’s required.  In fact, in many cases, it takes a very unique individual to be able to provide the support required when they themselves have so much financially riding on the outcome.  

Branch Rickey was a unique and amazing man.  Not only did he want to move our country forward from a social perspective, but he felt the introduction of Black ballplayers would significantly increase the popularity of the game in the city and provide him with a whole new demographic to market to.  He was correct on both counts, but again, that is beside the point.  Without his unwavering support, his ability to keep Jackie focused on the big picture, how and when to “pivot” based on the feedback being presented to them, and also knowing when to push and when to hold back, Jackie could have easily succumbed to the pressure and set back equal rights for many years.

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