Mariners call for equality in Juneteenth panel

June 19th, 2020

SEATTLE -- They discussed stereotypes and statistics, the challenges of often being the rare African American players on their teams growing up and the racist roadblocks they’ve encountered in baseball and life.

For an hour show entitled “Black Voices in Baseball,” four Mariners talked with broadcaster Dave Sims about being Black and the changes they hope to see as America responds to the wave of protests and rallies that are raising the awareness of Black Lives Matter and the need to keep working toward racial equality.

The virtual conversation was released Friday and can be viewed on the Mariners' YouTube channel, its premiere coinciding with Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States in 1865.

It’s not an easy discussion, but the Mariners' players noted it’s a conversation that needs to be had if the country wants to move forward.

“I just hope we get treated as equally as everyone else,” said , the Mariners’ 24-year-old second baseman who grew up as the son of a policeman in Birmingham, Ala. “We just want to be equal. That’s it.”

The players discussed plans of how to get more young African American kids involved in baseball, both as players and fans. Second baseman is promoting the idea of having an all-Black team in the next World Baseball Classic.

“Let us go show the world how talented you can be as a Black baseball player, if you want the game to grow,” Gordon said.

suggested inviting inner-city kids to come watch batting practice and hang out with players and get in touch with the game, while Long noted MLB could promote more African American players to show youngsters that baseball is a possibility for them.

“There’s got to be more advertisements with Black faces on it. Most of the commercials, you rarely see Black players,” Long said. “We have to be more in the forefront to catch their eyes.”

The recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta at the hands of police officers have weighed heavily on the Mariners' players. They talked of their own fears and incidents when dealing with police in their lives and the hope that growing public awareness can change that in the future.

“I’m just happy we have cameras,” said Crawford, the Mariners' starting shortstop. “If we don’t have that, we wouldn’t even be here. If no one captures that, it’s not going to get talked about. Who knows how many other incidents where it wasn’t caught on camera and cops go home and go to sleep fine. I’m pretty sure they’re numb to it, too. For some families, they don’t have their daddy no more, just because he didn’t have his blinker on or stop all the way. It’s unreal, man.”

, who burst onto the scene in Seattle with a strong September in his rookie callup last year, has been working out back home in Georgia during the pandemic and had an up-close look at the Brooks situation.

“Being in Atlanta, seeing the highways get shut down the last few days and seeing the outcry, especially after this happened a few weeks after the George Floyd situation, I really feel the energy has changed and the energy is a lot different,” Lewis said. “In the past, there was a lot of outrage. But now, you’re seeing a lot of groups really coming together to try to make things happen. And those are mostly peaceful, unified groups, which is something that is a lot different and has the potential to be something great.”

Also different is being comfortable speaking out as baseball players. Gordon, the veteran of the group at 32, acknowledged he’s always been told to stay quiet and not rock the boat and risk losing his job. But he said Black MLB players will be making a strong statement in the near future and continue pushing for progress.

“I know we still have a long way to go,” Gordon said. “But at least we can start from somewhere and not just say, ‘Oh well.’ … Hopefully, our words can finally be heard.”