Gossett spreads the gospel of Jackie
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Actor to emcee Jackie Robinson Day at Dodger Stadium
• New film to trace history of Negro Leagues
• The cultural legacy of Jackie Robinson
• More on Jackie Robinson Day
Louis Gossett Jr. grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn, not far from Ebbets Field, where Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier 61 years ago today.
While Jackie starred at second for the Dodgers, a young Gossett played first base and pitched for Abraham Lincoln High. Gossett was an ecstatic New York University sophomore in 1955 when "Dem Bums" finally beat the Yankees in the World Series.
Gossett, of course, would go on to be drafted by the New York Knicks but give up basketball for a hugely successful acting career, winning an Emmy for the legendary miniseries "Roots" and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his unforgettable turn as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in the 1982 film, "An Officer and a Gentleman."
Gossett, the Master of Ceremonies for the Jackie Robinson Day festivities at Dodger Stadium, says none of this would have been possible without No. 42.
"If it wasn't for Jackie, I wouldn't have aspirations of being better and growing and having the ambitions for what I do," Gossett told MLB.com. "It's an honor to be connected with something like the legacy of Jackie Robinson, to tell the stories of what he did and what he represents to children who know nothing about it.
"They're not taught anywhere about what choices they have. If they don't see it on TV or movies, they don't think they're important. But what Jackie showed all of us, and what I try to show today, is that no such thing as impossible. We have to be here for the children and teach them this. Our responsibility is to uplift them and love them and teach them the right way. That's what Jackie did."
That's what Louis Gossett Jr. does, too.
He has dedicated his life to a foundation called Eracism, which he calls an "all-out conscientious offensive against racism, violence, and ignorance relative to the role and significance of history in positioning individuals and collective communities for the future."
To that end, he meets with community groups and religious leaders and works toward halting gang activity through anti-violence youth camp initiatives, after-school programs focusing on mentoring and tutorial services to nurture the academic and professional development of children from diverse communities.
Eracism enriches the community and promotes diversity with the help of a series of documentaries, plays and interactive videos.
And another project Gossett is currently involved will help that community as well.
It's called "The Untold Truth," and it's a documentary about the Negro Leagues for which Gossett serves as the narrator and executive producer.
Gossett was approached about the film by its director, Gregg Champion, who is working with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to take the criminally under-publicized history of "black baseball" and get it to the masses. They're gearing the film toward a hipper, younger audience by interviewing iconic subjects and filling the soundtrack with the latest favorites in hip-hop, pop and rock.
"What should have happened long ago, all the recognition these great men and great players should have gotten, it didn't happen," Gossett says. "But it's not time to be bitter about it anymore. It's time to correct it.
"And this film will help do that. The point is that a lot was taken away from these courageous individuals, but that was then and this is now. That's in the past. 'The Untold Truth' is about what we can pass on to our children in knowledge and understanding for the future. These lessons are not in our movies and they're not in our history in school. It's a necessary story to tell, and being able to tell it in this way is a breath of fresh air, and something we have to do."
"The Untold Truth" is hardly Gossett's first foray into baseball movies.
He played a legendary Negro League -- and eventual Major League -- pitcher in the well-received 1981 ABC television movie, "Don't Look Back: The Story of Leroy 'Satchel' Paige," and he will make what he calls a "cool cameo" in an upcoming true-story feature called "The Perfect Game," which chronicles a Mexican team's march to the Little League World Series in the 1950s.
And in real-life hardball, Gossett has been a minority owner of the 2001 world champion Arizona Diamondbacks since they entered the league in 1998.
"I've got a World Series ring on my finger as we speak," he says. "Even with my name on it."
But while his financial baseball interests lie in the Valley of the Sun, his heart bleeds blue in Chavez Ravine for the Dodgers, his first love.
"I discovered baseball in Brooklyn with the Dodgers and Jackie," Gossett says. "I ran pigeon-toed when I played because he did. The kind of pigeon-toed that makes you run faster."
Gossett became friendly with Robinson's family, including his widow, Rachel, and his son, David, who runs a fair-trade coffee cooperative in Tanzania, Africa.
On Tuesday night, he'll do what he does best, speaking to children, introducing National Anthem singer Chaka Khan, and reminiscing with former Negro League and Dodger ace and ceremonial first pitch thrower Don Newcombe. All the while he'll boom out his powerful, distinctive speaking voice to communicate a message of hope and inspiration to the masses passed down by his boyhood idol.
"Jackie integrating baseball the way he did made it possible for me to think that I can break out of that small-minded thinking that tells you that you can't," Gossett says. "To go outside of Coney Island, to conquer problems, to be single-minded, to be encouraged to say, 'I can do this,' that came from Jackie Robinson.
"Now I'm passing it on, like a baton ... the way it should have been all along."
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.