Charley Pride Fellowship promotes diversity

10-week program to give students from diverse backgrounds an inside look into organization

March 19th, 2021

Country music legend Charley Pride always used to say, “There’s room for everybody in country music.”

“If he was with us today, we know he would say also, ‘There's enough room for everybody in Major League Baseball,’” said Rangers director of community impact Ray Casas. “Charley just wanted a chance. He just wanted an opportunity. I think that's what we all want at the end of the day. He believed in giving people an opportunity to shine.”

On what would have been Pride’s 87th birthday, the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation announced a 10-week paid fellowship program for college juniors and seniors currently enrolled in an undergraduate program. The purpose of these “Pride Fellows” is to promote diversity in Major League Baseball front offices.

Fellows will be able to rotate through their choice of three different departments over the course of their 10-week internship. Departments include business operations, ballpark operations, baseball operations, marketing, accounting and public relations.

Rangers senior vice president for community impact Karin Morris said the program is different than a traditional internship role. Fellows will be allowed to sit in on high-level meetings and get an “inside look” into the organization.

Pride, a four-time Grammy Award winner and two-time Negro Leagues All-Star, enjoyed being around baseball and especially the Texas Rangers. Pride was part-owner of the club for more than 10 years and often appeared at home games at Globe Life Park. He was also a regular fixture at Spring Training in Surprise, Ariz., and staged annual clubhouse concerts for the team.

Over the summer of 2020, he went to Rangers president of business operations Neil Leibman with the idea for bringing in interns of diverse backgrounds through the organization to give them experience in baseball. He worked with the Rangers on this project until his passing in December.

“This was Charley’s idea, nobody else's. Charley came to us,” Leibman said. “We talked about how do we get more African Americans involved in baseball on the field, how do we get them to play the game, how do we get them to enjoy baseball?

“We've seen a decline, and we need to reverse that decline. It's America's sport and America is inclusive. I don't think anyone in this organization is going to take the claim that it was their idea. It was Charley’s.”

This announcement comes a week after the Rangers honored Pride’s memory by dedicating one of the practice fields at their Spring Training complex as Charley Pride Field.

Those were the two things Pride loved: baseball and country music. The fellowship announcement included praise from a star-studded group of country music artists including Garth Brooks, Larry Gatlin and Neal McCoy, along with Dallas businessman Roland Parrish, whose Parrish Charitable Foundation is partnering with the Rangers Foundation for this initiative.

Brooks, Gatlin and McCoy all said that their connection to Pride through country music and their love for baseball inspired them to be part of this process with the Rangers.

“[Lack of diversity] has always been an underlying problem,” Brooks said. “I think some recent situations have brought light to that. The Texas Rangers, when [people] said, ‘Are you aware of the problem?’ They are aware of it. They’re ahead of us or this project wouldn't have been launched. I think they're trying to do the best thing for baseball.”

Charley Pride is the of country music, Gatlin said. He inspired another generation of Black artists to get into country music, like Darius Rucker and Kane Brown. But there’s one difference.

“The only difference is baseball chose Jackie Robinson,” his wife, Rozene, said. “Pride chose country music himself. Country music did not choose him. He loved people no matter what color, but he also did like to see minorities in positions where they should be.”

Leibman emphasized that the Rangers are fully committed to honoring Pride’s memory and working to diversify their own front office beyond the fellowship program. The organization has multiple women in front office and vice president positions, but no people of color.

Rozene and Dion, their son, both highlighted the importance of minorities currently working in the sport, with the acknowledgement that this program will open doors for many others.

“Time seems to erase everything no matter how big,” Brooks said. “Charley Pride’s name is never gonna be erased. [The Rangers] are making sure it's gonna take a hell of a long time if that would ever happen.”