Jeter: 'It is time for racial hatred to end'

June 19th, 2020

MLB Network celebrated Juneteenth on Friday with a special 90-minute program titled "MLB Tonight: A Conversation," in which current and former players and executives had an open conversation about race relations within Major League Baseball and across the country.

Hosted by Fran Charles and Harold Reynolds in MLB Network's Studio 42 -- named after the legendary Jackie Robinson -- the show featured remote interviews with Hall of Fame electee and Marlins chief executive officer Derek Jeter, nine-time Gold Glove Award winner Torii Hunter and front-office executives Theo Epstein and Ken Williams, as well as Robinson's daughter, Sharon Robinson, among others.

Jeter, who has been outspoken about racial issues in recent weeks, began the show by calling for change. He released a strong statement on June 1, saying he was "deeply saddened by the death of George Floyd," then adding "it is time for racial hatred to end."

"Something needs to change. It gets to a point where you say enough is enough," Jeter said in his conversation with Reynolds. "The one thing that I was optimistic about is, for the first time, you're seeing people across all 50 states and roughly 20 other countries -- people of all different races and different nationalities -- out there in agreement that now is the time and things do need to change, because it's been going on for too long."

Jeter, who launched the Turn 2 Foundation to help America's youth in 1996, has had similar conversations with members of the Marlins' front office and in a virtual meeting with his players a few weeks ago. He said it's important that everyone in the organization feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions without any hesitation or concern about potential backlash.

"I wanted people to hear it directly from me, that's the bottom line -- I want to be very clear on where I stand, and I want to be very clear on where the organization stands," Jeter said. "We're not going to sit idly by and allow racism to persist, that's the bottom line."

Hunter echoed a similar sentiment while further addressing comments he made last month regarding racism he endured in Boston during his 19-year big league career. After the five-time All-Star said that he had no-trade clauses specific to the Red Sox for that reason, the club released a statement corroborating Hunter's experience and vowing to make changes. Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy also reached out to Hunter directly to discuss the matter.

"He's a great guy. We sat and we talked, he listened, we had a conversation -- and that's all you can ask for, is to have a conversation," Hunter said. "You can tell he has a great heart and he wants to kind of rectify it, or have a spark of change. He's sincere about change. Some people out here say, 'Hey, it's too late.' With apologies, it's never too late."

For Hunter, it's all about people engaging in those open discussions and being willing to truly listen to one another.

"I feel like we have to have that conversation. That's what we need in society, that's what we need in sports -- we need more communication," Hunter said. "Wisdom, knowledge and understanding is the only thing that can get us back together. Love is not enough; we need action."

A group of big league executives attempted to get the ball rolling at the 2020 MLB Draft, where Commissioner Rob Manfred opened with a statement calling for action. Executives from all 30 teams also held up signs remotely that read: “Black Lives Matter. United For Change.”

"With the 30 GMs being involved in the Draft, we started calling around to one another and we decided that we wanted to recognize Black Lives Matter with a symbol," said Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "So we ended up designing a sign to acknowledge the movement and to show that we're united for change, not only in this country, but in the institution of baseball."

Wanting to "pair the symbolic gesture with an action item," the group of general managers collectively raised more than $300,000 to donate to charitable organizations supporting racial justice, voting rights and police reform. With matching donations from MLB and some owners, the total amount ultimately exceeded $1 million.

"When I talk about this, I get a little bit overwhelmed, because I did not expect to see measurable change in the area of race relations," said Williams, the White Sox executive vice president. "I almost was giving up because of the tone of the country. So when these [other executives] reached out to me, I didn't know how to react at first, so I thought, 'OK, let me sit back and see how serious they are.'

"The emotion that they showed in talking about these subjects, they were feeling it. I have chills thinking about it right now, because it was the first time in a long time that I thought, 'Wow, maybe we're not alone in this.'"

Jeter, who has a Black father and White mother, said he's noticed "weird looks" ever since he was a child, especially when he went anywhere in public with both parents.

"My parents were very direct with me, and my sister as well, [that] you have to make sure you surround yourself with people of all nationalities, all colors," Jeter said. "Don't let anyone talk down to you because of your race. Stick up for yourself. Those were the times, and unfortunately those are still the times. That's why we talk about it, and it's time for change."

Epstein said that change starts with everyone looking inward and being willing to not only listen but take action.

"That's the thing about institutionalized racism: When problems are systemic, it really means that we're all in some form or another part of the problem, so we all have to be accountable, look at our own behavior, our own unconscious biases," Epstein said. "Systemic problems are self-perpetuating -- they're taught, they're learned, they're repeated.

"The system doesn't fix itself. It's up to each of us to be better, to make it a priority and to be the change that we want to see in this game."