Jackie Robinson broke tackles on Hawaii's gridiron - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Jackie Robinson broke tackles on Hawaii's gridiron

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Six years before he broke baseball's color barrier, Jackie Robinson broke tackles playing semi-pro football in Hawaii.

He stayed at Palama Settlement, where an autographed photograph of him hangs prominently on a wall of fame.

"It says, 'To our pals. Best of luck. Jack Robinson,' executive director Jean Evans said.

In September, 1941, the NFL wasn't ready for African-American players. Robinson accepted an offer from the Honolulu Bears for $100 a game.

"His team was staying in Waikiki, and he was denied entrance to the hotels," Evans said. "So we put him up here."

"He was not a good football player, he was a great football player," retired sportswriter Jim Becker said.

Becker wrote for the Associated Press. He lives in Honolulu. He's the last surviving sportswriter who covered Robinson's 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

"I looked over and I thought this magnificent athlete, this courageous man is carrying the banner of decency, fair play and dignity, and the whole American promise," he said.

Becker said he and his colleagues decided not to refer to Robinson's color in their coverage.

"We were determined that this man was going to get a chance make it on his own, without undue pressure," he said. "He said to me sometime later, 'I can hardly wait for an umpire to throw me out of a game because that'll show that I'm being treated like everybody else.'"

Years later Robinson's Dodgers came through Honolulu on their way to Japan. In 1956, Bob Corboy was a 15-year-old batboy.

"Before one of the games at the old stadium, Jackie was warming up with somebody and he got pulled away for a minute. So I jumped in and got to play catch with him for five minutes, warming him up," Corboy said.

He came away with an autographed baseball.

Robinson's football stint in Hawaii ended when he sailed back to the mainland two day's before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Evans said the photograph on her wall is a treasure. For years it went undetected in a cardboard box in a storage room.

"It took several years, and just going through boxes. All of a sudden here's this photo of Jackie Robinson," she said.

No one knows which building Robinson stayed in when he practiced on Palama Settlement's grass field, but he left behind a memento and memories.

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