Early in one of the best sports movies, Knute Rockne, All-American, the immigrant kid Knute learns to play football with the neighborhood boys, including a black one. The logic of the movie, following the recognition of Catholics in higher education, is that the opportunities will open up for blacks, too. 42, another biopic of baseball star and civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson, takes the next step from that classic.
Frankly proclaiming Robinson’s importance for America, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey opens the movie by declaring to his assistant, “I have a plan.” In fact Rickey and Robinson deserve comparison with Martin Luther King. Claiming to be interested in winning and thus in profits, Rickey’s signing of Robinson exemplifies Tocqueville’s observation that Americans say that they are interested in profit but in fact often have higher motives. He is Tocqueville’s American, a self-professed Methodist focused on acting righteously, doing good while doing well.