For Josh Bell, a big part of playing in a new city means connecting to its community.
Before being traded to the Nationals in December, Bell played five seasons with Pittsburgh, where he was named the Pirates’ 2020 Roberto Clemente Award nominee. Though in a different uniform this year, the first baseman is staying involved with the city in which he began his Major League career.
On Wednesday evening, Bell participated in the “Athletes Against Antisemitism” virtual event, organized by Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Zach Banner. Speaking in the athlete portion of the panel, Bell was joined by Washington Mystics forward Alysha Clark. Bell spoke about experiencing racism as a child, and how he was impacted by the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“My parents sent me to private schools,” Bell said. “I grew up in a place where I knew what it felt like to be bullied, have racial remarks thrown at me. I think that growing up, you get past those things. Growing up, you focus on the things that you have to focus on to get to where you want to be in life as an adult -- and now I’m here. …
“With the Tree of Life, that kind of opened up my eyes to what’s really going. And then this past year, with [the deaths of] Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, specifically that incident in New York in Central Park, just realizing that they’re one in the same, that hatred is one in the same. That idea that one person is less than the next because of history or because of skin color or because of religion, I think that that is something that we all need to educate ourselves on, because we all know what it feels like to either be bullied or to have racial remarks thrown our way.”
Banner, whose professional tenure in Pittsburgh overlapped with Bell's, credited Bell for his role in helping him use his voice and platform for positivity.
“He is the one and only person who’s ever kind of encouraged me to read more, to educate myself more, to find out more things that we can do to make change instead of making noise,” Banner said. “Because yes, we can point out hate, but how are we going to change it?”
For changes Bell would like to be a part of, he already has been brainstorming ways he can have a positive impact in the D.C. community.
“One of the things that stuck out to me was addressing food deserts,” Bell said. “The idea that finding a healthy meal is hard for certain people just because of where they live. A lot of that ties back into education. How they’re feeling in school is going to be reflected on their grades, what kind of schools they get into, if they’re going to even go to college.”
Bell emphasized the importance of education in helping to understand, combat and prevent social injustices and spark change moving forward.
“Continue to look inside your heart, understand that there are some things that you might not know,” Bell said. “You might not be racist, you might not be anti-Semitic, but you can continue to learn how you can better fight it, so your kids can fight it better and their kids can fight it better as well.
“If you can acknowledge that something is wrong, you can acknowledge that you can do something about it, and I think that’s the start.”