Claim to fame: baseball player
DOB: January 31, 1919
Date of death: October 24, 1972
Diabetes type: unknown
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. He was one of five children living with his single mother. Throughout his high school and junior college career, Robinson was involved in many sports, including football, basketball, track, and baseball. He was named Most Valuable Player in baseball, and was elected to the All-Southland Junior College Team in 1938.
Robinson transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles in 1940, where he became the school’s first athlete to letter in four different sports. Then, in 1946, he went to Florida to train with the Montreal Royals, a Triple-A farm club, where he led the International League in batting average with a .349. Because of his outstanding play, the Dodgers asked him to play for the major league club in 1947. He made his debut on April 15, 1947 as the first African-American man to play major league baseball.
In his first year, he hit twelve home runs, led the league in stolen bases, was selected as Rookie of the Year, and helped his team win the National League pennant. Then, in 1949, Robinson became the first African-American player ever to win the Most Valuable Player award for the National League. He won his only championship ring in 1955, when the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Robinson retired after the 1956 season with a .311 career batting average and a .409 career on-base percentage. He was made a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the All-Century Team.
During Robinson’s career, he faced extreme prejudice, not only from rival players and fans, but from teammates, as well. He overcame, though, and managed to come out on top. Near the time of his retirement, Robinson was diagnosed with diabetes on a routine visit to his physician. While Robinson spoke out forcefully on many issues, he kept his diabetes diagnosis quiet. He was immediately prescribed insulin, and while his diabetes diagnosis couldn’t have been shocking, given that his two brothers also suffered from the disease, his biggest challenge was his diet.
Robinson suffered from heart disease and diabetes, and was almost blind by middle age. On October 24, 1972, he died of a heart attack at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. Former teammates and other famous African-American ballplayers served as pallbearers, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson gave the eulogy. The following year, Robinson’s widow, Rachel, began the Jackie Robinson Foundation (the website, which features Robinson’s biography, makes no mention of diabetes.) In 2010, plans were unveiled for a museum dedicated to the career and social impact of Jackie Robinson. Though construction has been delayed since then, the museum has received a donation gift of over six million dollars, which will allow construction to begin soon.
While Robinson is one of many famous public figures to keep their diabetes diagnosis hidden, many see this as a lost opportunity, at a time when type 2 diabetes is plundering the African-American community. Some argue that Robinson could have used his influence to advocate for the disease, raise awareness of diabetes, and urge improvements in care. However, present and future programs are helping to make Robinson a larger figure in the diabetes community. The City of Pasadena Human Services Department, for example, now operates the Jackie Robinson Center, a community outreach center that provides early diabetes detection and other services.