EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of ESPN’s season-long Jackie 75 project as ESPN commemorates the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the MLB color barrier, a one-hour “SC Featured” special “Jackie and Me” will debut tonight at 7 ET on ESPN. The program includes prominent athletes and public figures sharing reflections on Jackie Robinson’s life and legacy. Below is a Front Row piece from March with background on the production of elements of the program.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the MLB color barrier, ESPN is debuting Jackie 75 honoring Robinson’s lasting legacy.
In part, the season-long project will include a 10+-part short story video series, Jackie to Me, featuring newly conducted interviews with prominent athletes and public figures. The videos will debut across SportsCenter, Get Up and First Take< /em> beginning Monday, April 4.
Front Row spoke with Antoine Lewis (Vice President, Production) as well as project co-producers Jeff Ausiello (senior managing producer), Lauren Stowell (senior managing producer) and Willie Weinbaum (bureau producer) about what went into creating these deeply personal videos. The team was also critically supported by Darren Demeterio (manager, talent production) and Blake Grudzien (content associate) who worked tirelessly to secure guests and provide invaluable research, respectively, as well as many others.
Lewis on coordinating the cross-platform effort:
Every day, we strive to create programs and projects that make a difference, usually informing and entertaining the viewer. But this project was an opportunity also to educate and impact. We wanted to honor Jackie Robinson and frame how breaking the color barrier historically also gave way to an enduring expansion of the cultural barrier in our current society. Our goal is to share Jackie’s legacy across generations – one I summarize with three words: Man, Moment, Movement.
What does it mean to you to be a part of this project?
Weinbaum: Reporting through 27 years at ESPN on the life and impact of Jackie Robinson has been among my most important opportunities and experiences. It started with a 1997 Outside The Lines documentary, “Breaking the Line: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy,” for the 50th anniversary.
That was well over a year in the making and emphasized revelatory firsthand accounts of ’47 and the years after. Most recently was a 2021 in-depth report on the 75th anniversary of his barrier-breaking minor league debut and momentous handshake at home plate with teammate George Shuba.
Soon after, I sought involvement on the “ground floor” of a potential multi-platform presentation for this year’s 75th. I got to interview Robinson’s widow, Rachel, and his eulogist, Jesse Jackson, for the 50th, and his son, David, and Rev. Jackson, again, for the 75th. I’m grateful.
Favorite behind-the-scenes moment:
Stowell: Clemson softball player Morgan Johnson exuded such a beautiful energy and light. Seventy-five years after Jackie broke the color barrier. I had goosebumps as she described carrying his spirit with her every time she steps onto the field wearing the No. 42. It was beautiful (and emotional!) to see how the past can inform and shape the future.
What do you hope audiences take away from the video series?
Ausiello: First and foremost, we wanted to educate viewers on not only who Jackie Robinson was as a man, a father, a baseball player, and an activist who selflessly gave of himself to fight for others but also to illustrate the lasting effect his actions have had and continue to have 75 years after he broke the color barrier.