Bell: 'It’s exciting to hope for the change' 

August 29th, 2020

Pirates first baseman always looks forward to celebrating Jackie Robinson Day, putting on Robinson’s No. 42 and honoring the sacrifices made by the man who broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947.

This year, the day has taken on particular meaning.

Seven Major League games were not played on Thursday to refocus the country’s attention on police brutality and social injustice after the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis. That shooting further sparked the Black Lives Matter movement that spread throughout the world following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.

On Friday, people around baseball reflected on not only Robinson’s accomplishments as an athlete, but his activism as an advocate in the Civil Rights Movement.

“Personally, I feel like Jackie Robinson represented so much change in the game, change that you see right now across the league, change that you see across all sports. I feel like, for us, for players, for Black athletes, we hope to see more change,” Bell said before the Pirates’ series opener against the Brewers at Miller Park. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like. I feel like Jackie didn’t know what it was going to look like. But he knew that he was going to have to take some backlash, and he did.

“I feel like a lot of the players right now are taking some backlash, but they are willing and able to take it full on. It’s exciting to hope for the change in the future and to see what the world looks like in the future.”

Major League Baseball chose to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day on Aug. 28 this year for two reasons. It’s the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, which the Robinson Family attended, and it also is the date in 1945 when Robinson and Branch Rickey met to discuss his future as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In conjunction with the celebration, MLB announced a partnership extension with the JRF Scholarship Program, the Jackie Robinson Museum and the annual JRF ROBIE Awards. The extension is through 2023 and includes a $3.5 million commitment on behalf of MLB.

This year’s celebration comes amid a national conversation about racial injustice, and professional sports have played a significant role in starting that conversation. The NBA paused its playoffs earlier this week, and MLB has seen protests and postponements as players draw attention to social issues and ask for change.

They are also taking action. Bell is part of the Players Alliance, a group of more than 100 Black current and former professional baseball players. Members of the Players Alliance announced on Thursday that they would donate their salaries from Thursday and Friday to “combat racial inequality and aid Black families and communities deeply affected in the wake of recent events,” according to a statement.

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“I think it was just recognizing that we have to put our money where our mouth is. I think this world is run by the dollar,” Bell said. “We can say a lot, but it means a lot more if we can go out in communities and actively do. That’s just a sign of us doing. I know there’s going to be a lot more to come.”

Bell has been outspoken about issues of racial inequality and social justice since the killing of Floyd.

He said Friday that the shooting of Blake, and the response to it, has been a reminder that there’s as much good in the world as there is bad.

“I’ve been trying to recognize, acknowledge that there’s bad in this world, but still try to fight for the change that’s going to be the good,” Bell said. “I know that these horrific acts aren’t going to be the last ones that are talked about, but, hopefully, one day, they will end. Hopefully, one day it will be the last one, things will change and legislation will change and society will change as a whole to make life better for younger generations across the board.

“It’s definitely tough. I think it’s tough, but I guess one day I’ll look back on these times and be thankful.”

Bell commended the players and teams that elected to not play this week, noting that “If nobody does anything, nothing is going to change.” He’s been pleased by the unity among players, both in the Players Alliance text thread and in clubhouses throughout the league. And while the Pirates decided they weren’t in a position, logistically, where they could pass on playing Thursday, he was glad to see players like Mookie Betts and Dexter Fowler keep the conversation going.

“People are trying to do what they can. Especially today -- Jackie Robinson is a hero for so many. And he was an enemy for so many as well,” Bell said. “When I see Mookie, Fowler, guys like that, those are heroes in the game. It was awesome to be able to see they were doing what they could to at least make a statement to try and push for that change, whatever it might be.

“To continue to push, to continue to acknowledge that we’re not where we can be as a nation, but we’re going to fight to get there. It’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be worthwhile in the end.”