When I watched Henry Aaron play baseball, I knew I was watching someone special. It wasn’t just about watching a gifted athlete master his craft on the way to a Hall of Fame career as one of the greatest to ever play the game. It was that each time Henry Aaron rounded the bases, he wasn’t just chasing a record, he was helping us chase a better version of ourselves.

With courage and dignity, he eclipsed the most hallowed record in sports while absorbing vengeance that would have broken most people. But he was unbreakable. He stemmed the vicious force of white supremacy, in death threats, hate mail, and in hardened hearts. What I deeply admired and respected about him is that each time he rounded those bases — an astonishing 755 trips home — he melted away more and more of the ice of bigotry to show that we can be better as a people and as a nation.

Henry Aaron became, in the words of President Carter, “the first Black man for whom white fans in the South cheered.” It was not only his bat, but his character that won over those hearts and minds. For generations of athletes and civil rights advocates who followed, he showed how to be proud and be unafraid to stand up for what is right and just.

Jill and I count ourselves among the many millions of Americans who are grateful for the memories he gave us and our families. As a nation, we will still chase the better version of ourselves that he set for us. As we do, we mourn his passing and send our prayers to his beloved Billye, their children and grandchildren, and the entire Aaron family.

God bless, Henry “Hank” Aaron, an American hero.

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