In celebration of Juneteenth on Friday, Major League Baseball and its clubs turned their focus to commemorating the day with activities aimed to continue the conversation about social justice and awareness.
Juneteenth is an annual holiday, celebrated on June 19 -- the day slavery officially ended in the United States in 1865 when Union troops finally delivered word to Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended.
MLB Network and MLB.com aired "MLB Tonight: A Conversation," hosted by Fran Charles and Harold Reynolds. The 90-minute special edition of MLB Tonight covered issues around racial injustice and inequality in society and baseball, with insight from former and current players, including Derek Jeter, Torii Hunter and Cameron Maybin, in addition to Tony Reagins, MLB's executive vice president of baseball and softball development.
Additionally, several teams had programming to personalize the holiday for their fans. The Mariners shared a "Black Voices in Baseball Virtual Panel" with four of their players and broadcaster Dave Sims.
"We’re scared to say this. We’re nervous,” Dee Gordon said in a press release issued by the Mariners on Wednesday about the discussion. “The reason we’re nervous is we’ve been told our whole life and our whole careers to don’t say anything. Don’t ruffle any feathers. Don’t pretty much stand up for yourself as a man and for your family’s name."
"I’m proud to be a part of this,” J.P. Crawford said. “I’m proud to be playing alongside each and every one of my teammates right now. Coming up, we were one of the two brothers on the team, if that, so being a part of this has been something special."
The Commissioner's Office has enacted a series of action items as part of the process of the league evaluating its initial steps, specifically with regard to addressing issues on social justice, racial equality within the sport, and helping communities heal. Commissioner Rob Manfred recently issued a memo to employees, detailing Phase One of MLB's activation, many of which have already taken place, or with planning underway:
• MLB Diverse Business Partners Recovery Project: With a focus on Black-owned businesses, this program will financially support diverse businesses that have sustained damage as a result of riots/looting in recent weeks.
• Updated MLB Human Resources policies: As part of its background checks for positions that require law enforcement backgrounds, MLB will enhance its process to include consideration of any "excessive force" complaints against the prospective candidate to the extent that such information is available.
MLB will update its Workforce Diversity Policy Statement to state, in even stronger and more clear terms, that it does not and will not tolerate the unequal treatment, discrimination or harassment of employees based on race or color.
• Diversity & Inclusion Education & Resources: The league will continue providing employee-wide Unconscious Bias training and other D&I trainings on related topics.
• Charitable investments: In an effort led by heads of baseball operations from all 30 MLB Clubs, and as part of the MLB Draft, more than $1 million was committed across the following five organizations: Campaign Zero, Color of Change, Equal Justice Initiative, Jackie Robinson Foundation and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The commitment is comprised of donations from each of the 30 Club leaders as well as matching funds from MLB and individual Club owners. While initial funding is connected to the MLB Draft event, additional efforts will be announced in the coming weeks.
• League-wide Pro Bono Program: MLB will develop and implement an organized MLB and Club employee skills-based volunteer effort (e.g., legal work and other disciplines) to assist community-based social justice organizations and Diverse Business Partners.
• Dialogue, both internally and with the public, was a priority for the Commissioner’s Office when it was implementing its activation plan. Another component to the initiative is a new website, aimed to inform and educate on the topic of race, diversity and social justice. MLB has created an information and resources page, available to all.
• In an effort to support and show solidarity with all in the Black community, MLB has unveiled a new design on its logo. For the first time in its history, the colors on the black-and-white version of the logo are inverted, to present the silhouetted batter as black.
Subtle yet important symbolism and action continues to display MLB’s intent for social change, and, more importantly, signifies its belief that change can begin with everyone.
Examples of Juneteenth celebration highlights included:
• The Cubs hosted a virtual discussion with Civil Rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson and team employees this afternoon.
"We were trying to figure out a way to observe Juneteenth," said Julian Green, the Cubs' vice president of communications and community affairs. "We were looking to see how we could do it in an authentic way, especially for a large number of people who don't even know what Juneteenth is, who may not be aware. We thought the best approach would be helping people learn about it and educate people about it, versus doing a day off.
"And obviously, I couldn't think of a better person than probably one of the most prominent figures in the modern Civil Rights Movement in Jesse Jackson. We are just overjoyed that he would make time to provide his perspective on this moment, as well as how history, through slavery, may have played a role in some of what we're experiencing today."
• The Athletics hosted "A Conversation About Race: Reflection & Action", with Tony Kemp and A’s vice president Taj Tashombe on IG Live. This was the first in a series of conversations on race via IG Live with current and former A’s players, prominent community members and celebrities who are from or call Oakland home.
• The White Sox showcased digital artwork commemorating the day, designed by a local Black artist, Edo. The team also provided educational material about the history of Juneteenth to its staff, and encouraged the front office to spend the day learning and reflecting.
• The Twins are sharing with staff information, primarily through video, to help educate on the significance of Juneteenth and share where some of the major celebrations are taking place. They also posted relevant kids worksheets on their web site (coloring page, word search types of pieces), in addition to lighting the ballpark in red, black and green today. Additionally, last week, the Pohlad family announced a commitment of $25 million to racial justice, bringing to bear resources of the Pohlad Family Foundation, Pohlad family members and Pohlad companies in a two-phased, community-based approach.