KANSAS CITY -- Major League Baseball, like any other sports organization, isn’t going to solve police brutality or social injustice, the type of injustice exposed again by the killing of George Floyd while being apprehended by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.
But baseball and its platform can begin to build the bridges of awareness that may eventually contribute to long overdue social change. And that has been a focus of the Royals since Dayton Moore took over as general manager in 2006.
Moore has been as active as, if not more than, any GM in efforts to raise such awareness. But Moore also has put actions into words at a grassroots level through the team’s partnership with the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy, his own foundation -- C You in the Major Leagues -- as well as the team’s ongoing support of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Moore also took his baseball operations department to Atlanta in 2017 to visit The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change to better understand racism and social injustice, and the efforts by King to seek change.
“It was an eye-opener,” Mike Sweeney, a special assistant in baseball operations, told MLB.com. “It was such a tremendous learning experience.”
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Moore has long been an admirer of King, the Baptist minister and civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1968. “One of the greatest leaders,” Moore said, “this country has ever seen.”
It also was Moore and city leaders who had the vision for the Urban Youth Academy, which opened in March 2018, located in the shadows of the Negro Leagues museum. The academy is designed to empower youths aged 6-18 through baseball, softball, academic and social opportunities. The Royals commit $500,000 a year to operate the facility.
“A sense of opportunity and hope and inclusion has to start at a young age,” Moore said. “You’re trying to connect the urban, suburban and rural communities of Kansas City through the games of baseball and softball.”
Darwin Pennye, executive director of the KC Urban Youth Academy, moved to Kansas City from Houston specifically to join the fight to grow the game in the urban core.
“It is huge for us to be connected to an organization such as the Royals,” Pennye told MLB.com. “To follow under that umbrella gives us validity. And it shows the Royals’ genuine role in the community -- not just as consumers but providers as well.
“One of the first times I met Dayton he stressed how important this facility was to him personally. He wanted this to be the epicenter of youth baseball, not only in growing the game, but also to use our facility to impact the community, especially a [black] community that looks like me.
“I’ve seen us impact the lives of young people. We’re fighting against years of non-activity in the urban core. Everyone invests in the high-level prospect. But it’s important to invest in the others as well.”
Moore’s own foundation, CYIML, aims to provide hope and support to children and families in crisis, of all ethnic backgrounds.
Former big leaguer Reggie Sanders came to the Royals’ front office in 2017 as a special assistant to baseball operations and noticed a difference immediately in how the Royals approach diversity.
“What I was encouraged about Dayton is he was willing to be different, to go beyond the call of duty for change, regardless of race or color,” Sanders said. “He is willing to talk about what’s uncomfortable to talk about.”
And that’s what inspired Moore to take the Royals’ baseball operations department -- a congregation of nearly 20 people -- to Atlanta to visit the King Center as part of a four-day trip that included the team’s annual organization meetings. The genesis of the idea came the year before when Moore took his son, Robert, to visit the center.
Along with the King Center, Royals staffers also toured the home where King was born, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King delivered his final sermon before being assassinated in Memphis. Sanders, who is black, was overwhelmed by his first visit to the King Center, as were many others on the Royals’ staff.
“You just really start to understand diversity, equity and inclusion,” Sanders said. “What would that look like in terms of our own organization? Think of the variety of people sitting at our table in our organization. It starts with inclusion of thoughtfulness in the organization. We are doing a very good job, but there is more work to do in all of baseball.
“But I’m encouraged by the unity of people everywhere, and in our organization, to stand up for all people. That’s why in times like these I’m happy to be a K.C. Royal. We are trying to deliver the same message.”
During the visit, Sanders recalls coming across a famous King quote that quickly came back to him during the civil unrest of recent weeks: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“How profound is that with what’s going on today?” Sanders asked.
Pennye, whose great-grandparents were born into slavery, also was invited, which pleasantly surprised him, to the King Center visit.
“For [Moore] to include me and our staff that I have here,” Pennye said, “it showed the value he has in us individually. It also said to me the importance of character. The core value of Martin Luther King’s nonviolent approach stems around character, and Dayton is very big on character.
“Dayton wanted his people to see the world through the lens of another person -- in this case a black man.”
Sweeney remembered a story told by King’s daughter, Bernice, during the visit.
“She told us her father always said that the kitchen was the most important room in the house,” Sweeney said. “She said the family would always meet every night for dinner, no matter what time, just to share and talk about all the issues that were going on. Every night they would talk about those issues and their frustrations.
“It’s the place we all need to start to discuss these issues with our families. It starts at the home.”
The Atlanta visit reinforced to Sanders where change needs to start.
“So much of what we see in history in terms of racism is that it has been ingrained in our hearts and minds,” Sanders said. “We have to be retrained to see something different.”
And while neither the Royals nor baseball can solely institute that change, they can continue to plant the seeds.
“It’s like Dayton always tells us,” Sweeney said, “‘Maybe we can’t fix the world, but we’re going to try.’”
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.