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Tomase: How Mo Vaughn found lasting inspiration from Jackie Robinson

NBC Sports

A college coach at Seton Hall turned Mo Vaughn on to the legend of Jackie Robinson, and the spirit of the player who integrated baseball continues guiding the former Red Sox legend to this day.

Speaking during a recent middle-school webinar hosted by the Red Sox to celebrate Robinson's legacy, Vaughn described his connection to one of the most influential and important figures of the 20th century.

The last African-American player to wear Robinson's No. 42, which has since been retired by Major League Baseball, Vaughn kept following in Robinson's footsteps after retirement, investing in affordable housing -- including a building once owned by Robinson himself.

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"I was able to come to Boston and put on his number," Vaughn told the students. "I've never really considered it my number. You can't carry the torch, because none of us could actually take on the responsibility of what he went through. It's virtually impossible. That's for a special man with a special makeup."

Vaughn began studying Robinson in the late 1980s at Seton Hall at the suggestion of baseball coach Rick Bowness, who encouraged Vaughn to wear No. 42. It's the only number he ever wore during a career that spanned from 1991-2003 and included an MVP in 1995 with the Red Sox.

"He told me to study this guy and I did," Vaughn said. "He really showed me what Jackie Robinson was all about because he was a big Dodgers fan. A lot of us need to introduce this information to all players. You ask a younger person about Jackie Robinson, they look at you like, who is this guy? I think we need to, as much as possible, try to introduce what he did and who he was to the younger generation, just so they know."


Vaughn's connection to Robinson only grew when he was forced to retire in 2004 at age 36 because of a knee injury. Adrift and unsure of his identity without baseball, he decided to invest in low-income housing as a way to give back to the community. He has renovated over 1,000 units in New York, including a development that Robinson built.

"I didn't want to retire," Vaughn said. "I didn't know what I was going to be. I didn't know who I was going to be or what people were going to know me for. All I had ever known was baseball. It was a very, very hard time from about 2003 to 2008, but luckily for me, I got another birdy from Jackie and I got into the affordable housing industry when I retired. I own a property that Jackie Robinson in White Plains used to own. I've been touched by him as an athlete on the field, in Boston, wearing the uniform, doing certain things, and then in the afterlife I've been very successful with providing quality affordable housing to people through this country. I got into the same field owning property that Jackie Robinson used to own. He's an imprint on both sides of my life. I'm very, very thankful for everything that he represents."

Vaughn would like to see Robinson's impact on society increase over time. He considers the lessons he has applied in his own life and sees universal truths.

"It's funny," he said. "Jackie Robinson integrated this game. We all could go to different venues, be it football, basketball. We're all sitting next to every different color people. We're all rooting for our team. We're all in line, we're high fiving each other, people we don't even know. I don't even know this guy next to me. But when our team is playing well, we're all excited. 

"Why can't we take this to the world every day as we walk, Monday through Friday? Why does this only happen at these venues? And these are the type of questions we have to continue to ask ourselves, how we get better as people to have inclusion and everybody be accepted moving forward. When that happens, we're going to know what we're on our way."