'42' has valuable lessons to teach

The pre-movie chat went something like this: Turn off your iPhones, don’t try to sneak an Instagram picture or two during the show, and learn about the human element of a historical figure whose courage shattered seemingly indestructible racial barriers.

Oh, yeah. And what you’re about to watch has absolutely nothing to do with One Direction.

The last part produced some sad faces.

I forgot it’s sacrilegious nowadays to tease any 12-year-old girl about a certain English-Irish boy band.

It was Wednesday night, and I and other parents brought a group of young ladies, all local fastpitch softball players, to watch “42,” the biographical sports drama of Jackie Robinson forever changing baseball by becoming the first African-American player in the major leagues.

It was important for the girls to see the movie, to learn about Robinson, to be educated about a different time and how it still influences many today.

Reading about Robinson and the shameless racism he faced upon signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers is one thing.

Watching, hearing, understanding the level of hatred pointed at him on a giant screen is another.

Maybe the girls pass on lessons learned.

Maybe they help educate others.

Maybe it all makes a profound difference in how they live.

Movies like “42” keep breathing those stories that generations of children need to know. They could have made a five-hour film of Robinson’s life and still not included all the significant moments that defined how he persevered and ultimately triumphed. They stopped at 2 hours, 8 minutes.

This isn’t meant as a review of the film in the classic sense, although I can’t imagine Hollywood could have made a better choice than Chadwick Boseman to portray Robinson. His look. His mannerisms. His defiant nature in the face of bigotry.

But for the particular group I attended with, it wasn’t important that the acting wasn’t all academy worthy or that the script wasn’t brilliantly crafted or that the story didn’t develop its characters nearly enough or that Harrison Ford (who plays Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey and is as far from Han Solo and Indiana Jones as one could imagine) finally looked his age in a film.

Older, even.

Sports movies are meant to stir emotions more than any cinematic genre, whether about a small-town high school basketball team from Indiana in 1952 or an over-the-hill fighter from Philadelphia given the shot of a lifetime.

They are meant to inspire. To enlighten.

This movie served such a purpose.

Some believe the PG-13 rating of “42” was generous given the amount of racially charged language it contained. Robinson’s character was called the N-word throughout the movie, too many times to count, and yet some who have reviewed the film did. Close to 30 times. A lot.

But the language had to be violent and cruel in nature to rightly portray how bad Robinson had it, how much hatred he endured. It also allows this generation, like those young ladies watching Wednesday, to discuss wider spectrums of racism.

It’s weird. For a movie conveying such an important message, it didn’t come close to the mood of a big-screen hit. Maybe that’s best. The story held the evening. You can save the bells and whistles and magnificent visual effects for the next 3-D superhero tale.

Mostly, those in the theater, young and old alike, were better informed on issues that, while important when learning from a book, can’t compare when seeing them depicted on film.

It can produce the next day words from those fastpitch players who watched the story, some who were moved enough to chronicle how they viewed a man who changed so much so long ago.

Writing is important. Kids don’t do enough of it anymore. So when a young lady such as Shea Clements records her thoughts about Robinson, about how she was touched to witness the pain he and his wife suffered, a lesson has been learned. When a handwritten paragraph by Victoria Rosales is produced, recounting how baseball proved bigger than bigotry, a message has been delivered.

It’s true. There never will be another Jackie Robinson for a multitude of reasons, never such a transformative figure who will again tear down such walls. That’s why watching this movie or, better yet, ensuring today’s children do, is vitally important.

Shea. Victoria. Bridget. Caitlin. Lileya. Raelyn. Seanna. Alexis. Lexi. Abby. Jaycee. Monique. Twelve young girls and 2 hours, 8 minutes of one of the most important films they will watch.

It wasn’t One Direction.

But it was important all the same.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.