(WTVM) - Just last week, baseball legend Hank Aaron was laid to rest after a life of sensational achievements as an athlete and a businessman.
His career and life over 86 years spanned the time of the Negro Baseball League before the desegregation of baseball, until the mid-’70′s when he achieved the status of Home Run King.
But Hank Aaron’s life was always much more than a great sports story.
He endured and rose above vile racism, which accelerated to dangerous levels when Aaron hit his 715th home run – finally eclipsing Babe Ruth’s record 714.
The racism back then took the form of disgusting letters to Hank Aaron and his family, as well as other, tangible threats - so dangerous the FBI was called in to investigate.
Not all of the letters Hank Aaron got were from haters.
In 1973, the year before he hit his record-breaking home run, Hank Aaron received almost 1 million pieces of mail – more than any other person in the country.
But the racist letters ended up being the ones that Hank Aaron kept, to remind him of the negative side of America, even while he kept his head up and focused on the good he could achieve.
By 1974, Aaron was all the more determined to break Ruth’s record, not just as a black man, but as simply the best man - and baseball player - to do it.
By the time of his historic at bat, Aaron’s victory over racism was acknowledged by legendary broadcaster Vin Scully when he said, “What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world.
A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol.
And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.
Even just a few weeks before his death, Hank Aaron was still being a role model: receiving the covid vaccine in an effort to persuade other people of color to protect themselves and get vaccinated, too.
That’s the kind of example Aaron set in his sporting life and in his successful career as a baseball executive and a business owner, including here in Columbus.
Hank Aaron had quiet courage, a strong character and confidence.
Most importantly, Hank Aaron did not let racism define him. He proved racism could be beaten and he did just that - to become a real life hero to all fans of every color.
That’s a legacy that might be worth more than all the home runs Hank Aaron achieved with a baseball bat.
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