SEATTLE — They will no longer be silent. They will no longer be afraid to speak up for what they believe is right and speak out against what they know to be wrong. They’ll educate teammates and others who don’t understand. And they won’t back down from this fight.
The movement to fight the long-standing systemic racism in this country reached a breaking point with the death of George Floyd and the days of protests that followed. Instead of adhering to the antiquated thinking of “being seen, not heard” for young and unproven professional athletes, several African American players on the Seattle Mariners, most of them with less than a year of MLB experience, took to social media to share their opinions and experience without fear or hesitation.
Things needed to be said, and they were going to say them and they don’t plan to stop.
Perhaps most important their manager and the organization want them to be vocal about these things in an effort to educate others with the hope of understanding and change.
“I’m proud of our players for speaking up about it,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I think they’ve handled it really well. Some of the guys are more active on social media than others, and that’s fine. They’ve been very respectful and not afraid to give their opinion. I support everything they’re doing.”
Coming into the restart of spring training, the Mariners have 11 African American players and one coach participating in camp. The 11 players are by far the most in baseball. Their presence and impact are unmistakable.
Seeing his players’ comments on social media and then watching a roundtable discussion featuring Dee Gordon, Shed Long, J.P. Crawford and Kyle Lewis that was moderated by broadcaster Dave Sims, who is one of two African-American play-by-play announcers in MLB, Servais began to do some soul-searching and rethinking about his own understanding of the situation.
“I thought Dave did a great job hosting the call with our players and really created a forum for those guys to express their opinions and share some of their stories,” Servais said. “I know from a personal level. I’ve needed to make changes to just my awareness and understanding and kind of relearn the history of what’s going on. It’s something I’m very aware of. I’m proud of the fact that the Mariners have a group of young African American players. They all have different backgrounds. I really want to take the time to celebrate that and learn from those guys.”
He plans to make sure that group takes an active role in educating the rest of the team and staff about the situation. If he didn’t, it would go against his beliefs about the environment surrounding a team.
“It’s something I’ve talked about with our group, it’s something I’ll address with our team because we are family in here,” Servais said. “And if you’re a true family, you really want to understand what everyone has gone through throughout their lives. You can never totally walk in their shoes. There’s no way. How could we?
“But to respect it, learn from it and help. In this seat I sit in, I want to help educate young people along the way, too. But the only way I can do that, I have to listen. I have to learn. I have to educate myself. It’s been a real learning experience. It’s one that I look forward to continuing to address with our players.”
Servais won’t allow the day-to-day grind of baseball, the spread of the coronavirus or anything else prevent that growth.
“The more we talk about it and the more comfortable we get, the more we understand,” he said. “And that’s important as a society. It’s something we are going to address a lot as a team, and it’s really no different than a lot of the other things we do, other than the fact that the history of what’s gone on here in our country needs to change.”
Sims, who also wrote a guest column for The Seattle Times on the subject, marveled at the willingness of the young players to open and share their experiences and feelings.
“It was outstanding,” he said. “It was certainly called for given the events of the last six weeks. I salute their bravery and courage. It makes me proud to know that their generation is geared up for a challenge.”
Growing up in New York, Justin Dunn’s parents educated him about the challenges that he would face in the future.
“Baseball has kind of been the easy part for me,” he said. “Dealing with a lot of these social injustices growing up as an African American child and African American male, in my home I was raised to have these conversations at 5 years old. At 5, I was learning how to handle a police stop. So a lot of this stuff that’s going on, it’s sad to see. But for the African American culture, it’s something we’ve been seeing for so long in our lives that in a way it’s almost become like normal.”
That normal will no longer be acceptable to him and his teammates.
The feeling of empowerment by sharing his voice that Dunn wanted to express for so long has been able to blossom with the Mariners. The multitude of Black players on the team allowed him to feel comfortable becoming more vocal.
“We’re finally tired of accepting that as normal, so finally realizing it’s OK for me to speak up has been one of the biggest things that I’ve had to deal with personally,” Dunn said. “For so long, I felt like I had to suppress it and keep it down. Finally being able to speak and be open, walk into a clubhouse with 10 other African American players and be able to share stories with them, feel comfort to talk to them about anything is really beneficial for me in my first year up here and fighting in the situation that I am, because I can have a more candid conversation with Dee and he can understand more where I’m coming from as an African American child and things along those lines.”
Lewis, the projected everyday starter in the outfield, jumped at the opportunity to appear on the roundtable with Sims and understood that the Mariners were giving them avenues to take a more proactive role.
“I really am thankful for the fact that we’ve been able to express this in a way that I don’t think it’s been expressed before and able to come together in a way that I haven’t seen before,” Lewis said. “You’re really starting to see a movement that has been unprecedented and we have a big opportunity. I just want to be a part of that and help that continue to move forward as we continue to try to come together and fight for social justice, as well as the team to give love to one another.”
Both players said the response from fans, friends and teammates have been supportive. Dunn mentioned outfielder Braden Bishop’s supportive daily posts on Twitter and Instagram and the reactions to them. The ultra-personable Bishop has even engaged in some pointed debate with people who downplay his posts.
“Everybody has been great,” Dunn said. “I’ll use Bish as an example. He’s been at people’s throats on Twitter, having our backs and trying to have our voice heard from a different perspective. So our teammates have been great. The front office has been amazing for even trying to put that (roundtable discussion) on and having our voices heard. I’m nothing but appreciative for the Mariners and extremely blessed to be part of a great organization.”