Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death stunned Hollywood and all of his adoring fans. The actor, who had his breakout role in the film “42” starring as Jackie Robinson, died after a long bout with colon cancer on the same day MLB celebrated the Brooklyn Dodgers star who broke the color barrier in MLB in the 1940s. That irony, however, was strangely just one of several to happen on a day when the world lost one of its most beloved actors.
Chadwick Boseman’s first sports film wasn’t ’42’
While most know Chadwick Boseman for his starring role as baseball legend and sports hero Jackie Robinson in “42,” which hit theaters in 2013, it was five years earlier that Boseman made his big-screen debut in a film about another sports star.
In 2008, Boseman played Floyd Little in the sports movie “The Express: The Ernie Davis Story,” which is the story of Syracuse University star Ernie Davis, who was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. The film tackled the same topics as “42” would years later, including racism, discrimination, and athletics.
Little was a star high school player who initially planned to attend and play football at Notre Dame. That all changed when he had a meeting with Davis. In 1963, Davis died of leukemia at the age of 23, but Little still honored his commitment to Davis and played at Syracuse from 1964-66. He wore the same No. 44 as Davis and was a three-time All-American.
In May, it was announced that Floyd Little was diagnosed with cancer.
Chadwick Boseman played sports hero Jackie Robinson in ’42’
RELATED: Why Did Jackie Robinson Wear No. 42?
After playing Floyd Little, Chadwick Boseman took on a much bigger part in a sports film, the leading role in “42” as Jackie Robinson. Boseman’s depiction of Robinson and his resolve in overcoming unrelenting racism throughout his baseball career earned the actor widespread praise.
Boseman told Vanity Fair how daunting it was to take on a role of someone who was a hero to so many people.
“I definitely felt the responsibility going into it. I felt more responsibility to [Jackie’s widow] Rachel Robinson than I did to anyone else. Everyone had their own opinions and reasons why he is a hero to them,” Boseman said. “People would meet me, call me, text me, e-mail me, Facebook-message me, and tell me, ‘I hear you’re playing my hero.’ When that happens, you know that all of those people are going to have an opinion and feelings that you have to live up to. But I just thought, let me just focus on the truth.”
Jackie Robinson Day and MLB tribute to Boseman
In this momentous time in American history with entire leagues boycotting sports in protest of the racial injustices endured by the Black community, Jackie Robinson Day took on a special meaning this year. As happened in years past, baseball players from all MLB teams donned the no. 42 jersey in honor of Robinson. Many teams also placed a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on home plate during a moment of reflection before the first pitch.
The day was filled with a mix of emotions honoring Robinson and his courageous role in battling racism, plus a sobering reminder that much work remains to be done. Unfortunately, the day ended on a somber note with the news of Boseman’s death.
Many in the sports world responded, including MLB, in a statement on Twitter.
“We are devastated by the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman. His transcendent performance in “42” will stand the test of time and serve as a powerful vehicle to tell Jackie’s story to audiences for generations to come.”
MLB’s words perfectly captured the essence of the moment. While Chadwick Boseman is no longer with us, his impressive works remain and will for many years. In his roles, he confronted many of the issues the nation is currently grappling with on a daily basis. And he showed that through patience, persistence, and most importantly, perseverance, they can and will be overcome.