Philly legends talk activism on MLK Jr. Day

January 17th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- Gary Matthews still remembers the devastation he felt in 1968 when he learned that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.

He was 17 then.

“We had a Black leader that was no longer there, no longer a voice,” Matthews said during Friday’s virtual conversation “Athletes and Activism: Sports, Racial Equity and Social Justice” with Jimmy Rollins, Dawn Staley and MLB Network's Harold Reynolds.

The discussion was a joint effort of the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP), the Phillies and Citizens as part of the AAMP’s 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend Celebration.

“Like he said, too, your work is never going to be done,” Matthews continued. “You can never really have too much education. My mom used to always, always tell me, 'Treat other people like you want to be treated.' And I live by that. My kids live by that.”

Rollins and Matthews are former Phillies stars. Staley is a Philadelphia native, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and the women’s basketball coach at South Carolina. They, along with Reynolds, held an illuminating hour-long conversation on King’s legacy, race and gender equity in sports, and a country divided in many ways.

“When you say that we don’t belong, like, shut up and dribble, or shut up and pitch, we’re a part of this world,” Staley said. “We pay taxes. We do it all. We should have a say in who governs our local government, who governs our national government. So when you say, just shut up and do this or that, it really strikes a chord … not just in the WNBA, but [with] people who feel like we should have a say. It is the people. It’s everyday workers. Because we are that. … They were able to use their platform to change elections. I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

Of course, not everybody can handle those sentiments. Rollins is OK with that.

“People aren’t always going to like your truth, or the truth,” Rollins said. “There are times when I’ve posted things on Instagram and people send messages, ‘Well, I used to like you, but I don’t anymore.’ That is fine by me. If it took me to say what the truth is for you to say you don’t like me, that is OK. I have no problems with that. I don’t know you. You don’t know me. I’m speaking my truth. But for someone who needs to hear this from me, I did the right thing. You’re not going to win everyone over.”

Matthews, Rollins and Staley have long been team leaders and respected voices. For more on their perspectives, their conversation can be viewed on Phillies YouTube, as well as on the AAMP and Citizens websites.