The title of the Princeton senior thesis paper was 28 words. The final product ended up being close to 80 pages. Royals pitcher Chris Young can still recount the topic of his study in quite vivid detail: “The Impact of Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball on Racial Stereotypes in America: A Quantitative Content Analysis of Stories about Race in The New York Times.”
Sounds like your typical summer project for most young baseball players, right? Young, 37, completed the senior thesis in 2001 as he rode buses in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor-league system. He had been drafted the previous summer after his junior year at Princeton. Yet he was determined to graduate with his class, a goal that required finishing a senior thesis, a tradition at Princeton.
Somehow, Young managed the balancing act.
On Saturday, the memory lingered as Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, the annual tribute to an American civil rights pioneer.
“He changed the world for the better,” Young said of Robinson. “As athletes, we have an opportunity, a platform to impact the lives of others, and Jackie Robinson no doubt did that and changed the world for the better.”
Sixteen years later, Young says his only regret was that he did not get to spend more time on campus while researching Robinson. He was hustling through a season with the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League then. So Young spent hours pounding out pages on a laptop while sitting on the team bus.
For the project, Young studied news stories and coverage in The New York Times in the months before and after Robinson broke the color barrier and integrated baseball in 1947. Young researched Robinson’s career and life. Yet the goal of the paper was to study how the integration of baseball affected racial attitudes in the United States.
“(Robinson) was the variable to see how racial attitudes and stereotypes changed as a result of the integration of baseball,” Young said.
“The way the public gets their information is from the media. So it shows, one, the impact media has on the ideas of the general public. And then, secondly, a movement like the integration of baseball can change those attitudes of the general public as well.”
Young laughs at the way a college assignment has followed him during his baseball career. The story makes for a good anecdote in profile stories, so it’s come up plenty during his long stint in the majors.
Still, Young said he relishes questions about the thesis because it generally leads to a conversation about Robinson. After finishing the paper, Young said he did more reading about Robinson’s post-baseball career and life.
“What stands out to me is what a good person he was,” Young said. “He had to have the right temperament — the balance of competitiveness but being able to control his emotions. He knew that he couldn’t fail, and it took the right person to do that, and Jackie Robinson was that man.”