Giving back always part of Adell's makeup

Angels outfielder: 'We want to spread the message that this game is all-inclusive'

March 8th, 2021

was only 15 years old when he knew his future would be in professional baseball, and even back then, he started to formulate ideas about creating his own foundation to give back to the local Louisville community.

So, shortly after Adell was drafted by the Angels with the No. 10 overall pick in 2017, he created the Jo Adell Foundation, which carries Adell’s personal mantra of "Work hard, be kind, and give back." Since its inception, Adell’s foundation has hosted baseball camps, provided holiday meals, sponsored academic initiatives and more to create opportunities for the less fortunate in the greater Louisville region.

Given Adell’s charitable nature, it only made sense for him to also join The Players Alliance, a group of more than 150 Black current and former baseball players with a mission to create more opportunities for the Black community in every aspect of baseball and beyond. Adell looks up to founders Curtis Granderson and CC Sabathia, and participated in an event called the Pull Up Neighbor Tour in Phoenix in mid-January that saw more than 50 players give back at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. The Players Alliance has helped raise more than $40 million for Black communities, including $10 million from MLB.

“It's huge,” Adell said. “I talked to Curtis a couple of weeks before that event, and we just talked about the focus of trying to spread the game of baseball around lower-income communities and minority families that don't really have the access to equipment and whatnot to play the game. The more of us that they see out there and they understand that, minority players play this game, there are Black players out here who play at the highest level, it can make them realize, ‘Hey, I can do that.’”

For Adell, the possibility of becoming a professional athlete was always present, as he’s the son of Scott Adell, a former college football star at North Carolina State who had a brief NFL career with the New Orleans Saints. His mother, Nicole, has an academic background and is the principal of Newburg Middle School in Louisville.

Adell also followed the path of his sister, Jessica -- a star athlete at Ballard High School in Louisville before playing college softball at Tennessee and Louisville, while also participating in track and field as a javelin thrower.

But the athletic success didn’t protect Adell from racism, despite his status as the son of an NFL player and growing up as one of the best baseball prospects in the country. As he recounted to ESPN’s The Undefeated last year, Adell has experienced blatant racism in the past, including two fans yelling racial slurs at him from the outfield at a Minor League game in Birmingham, Ala., in 2018. When he was in high school, a store owner in his native Louisville wouldn’t let Adell enter wearing his backpack because of unfounded fears of shoplifting, and he had a girlfriend who told him her family didn’t approve of their interracial relationship.

That experience is a reason why Adell felt so unsettled last year after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in February, Breonna Taylor in March and George Floyd in May, as well as the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in August. It led to the decision to lock arms with fellow Black teammates Justin Upton, Keynan Middleton and Brian Goodwin on the field during the national anthem prior to a game against the Mariners on Aug. 28. And it led to even more involvement with The Players Alliance, especially with Upton, who is also active in the community.

“We want to spread the message that this game is all-inclusive,” Adell said. “People come from all over. The opportunities are endless. I think the events put on by The Players Alliance, I’m just proud to be a part of it. Curtis and CC have done such a great job.”

Said Upton: “With the awareness and what people have seen and what people believe, I think the tide is starting to change and the support is there. Us being able to stand up and speak freely, I think it’s essential. It’s special for us to be able to connect with a lot of guys that you don’t see a lot throughout the game, share experiences and share beliefs and share the things that guys are doing in their communities, and being able to support them in that.”

Even as a top prospect, Adell recounted how often he’d hear that he was “toolsy, raw and high-risk” as a player, scouting terms often used to describe Black athletes. It simply didn’t make sense for Adell, who had been focused on baseball almost all of his life and wasn't even a two-sport athlete.

Adell worked hard to change those perceptions in the Minors, and he made a rapid ascent up the prospect lists, including being ranked No. 5 overall by MLB Pipeline heading into last season. But last year was a challenge for Adell, who struggled at age 21 in his first taste of the Majors, slashing .161/.212/.266 with three homers, four doubles and seven RBIs in 38 games -- also making several mistakes in right field, including two balls that went off his glove and over the fence for home runs.

Adell, though, wouldn’t have it any other way, as he’s accustomed to adversity and believes it’ll only make him a better player.

“I was gonna have struggles regardless,” Adell said. “You don’t know until you’re thrown into the fire, but at the end of the day, it was good for me to get out there and face that type of adversity. That made me a better person, a better player. If I had to do it over again, I would go out there and fail again, because every single time I’d bounce back and say, ‘I’m not gonna let this happen again.’”

Adell is expected to start 2021 in the Minor Leagues as a result, as the club acquired veteran outfielders Dexter Fowler, Jon Jay and Juan Lagares this offseason. But Angels manager Joe Maddon says it’s only be a matter of time before Adell is the club’s regular right fielder because of his intelligence and work ethic.

"Jo is a great student,” Maddon said. “Just give him a little time and this guy is going to figure it out. He's really sharp, he really cares, and he's a great athlete. I just think his quest for knowledge and figuring things out really puts him at the top of the list."