SEATTLE – Dee Gordon admits that the whole process has left him and other players involved “absolutely petrified.”
But Gordon also says, “I have a really good feeling that I was put on this earth for something bigger than me. You know what? This might be it. This might be the calling.”
Gordon is referring to his deep involvement in The Players Alliance, a newly formed group of more than 100 current and former Black baseball players that has come together to, in its words, “use our collective voice and platform to create increased opportunity for the Black community in every aspect of our game and beyond.”
Gordon, who is in his third season with the Mariners, is one of seven members of the Active Player Advisory Board for The Players Alliance, with Cameron Maybin, Tim Anderson, Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Aaron Hicks and Andrew McCutchen.
The board of directors is comprised of president Curtis Granderson, vice president CC Sabathia and secretary Edwin Jackson. The Major League Players Committee includes Mariners J.P. Crawford, Justin Dunn, Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Lewis, Shed Long, Justus Sheffield and Taijuan Walker. Numerous other former stars, including Torii Hunter, Jimmy Rollins, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard, are involved as well, adding to the gravitas of the fledgling organization.
Gordon, with Maybin, was at the forefront of the group’s formation during baseball’s long hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic. During that time, a cry for social justice was building in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis.
Many football players were speaking out. Gordon felt it was time for baseball players to join in. Several of them filmed a Black Lives Matter video that aired in ballparks on opening day in July.
The trepidation among players, Gordon said, comes from the fact that none had attempted this before. But the declining number of Black players in baseball and the challenges they face, including discrimination at every level, convinced him and others that they should formally bond together to bring the issues to light and forge solutions.
“This is scary to us,” Gordon said, “but it needs to be said.”
Last year there were 68 Black players out of 882 in MLB, which is 7.7%. This year, with expanded rosters, the numbers ticked up slightly to 80, or 7.8% (more than 10% of which are on the Mariners, who have nine Black players on their 28-man roster).
This week, MLB is honoring the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, which existed because Black players were banned from the majors until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. The percentage of African American players peaked at 19% in 1986, according to research by Mark Armour of the Society of American Baseball Research.
Gordon has ideas on how to increase Black participation at the grassroots level, which he sees as a vital goal of The Players Alliance.
“The thing about it is, there’s 68 of us – that’s 68 Black families in America that have been changed,” he said. “We need the numbers to go up a little bit so these Black kids can have hope coming from these rough backgrounds.”
One of the alliance initiatives is Gear for Good, a player-led equipment drive to increase access to baseball in communities where it is not prevalent.
“We’re trying to change people’s lives,” Gordon said. “But the only way we can do that is by helping them pay for it. This game is too expensive. Us as The Players Alliance, that’s why we got together, to try to cover some of these costs.”
He pointed out that gloves and bats can run as high as $500 each, and cleats more than $100.
“That’s just the equipment,” he said. “If you’re on a travel team, you have to spend money on travel. These kids in these communities do not have that type of money to be spending, especially being Black in America.”
The Players Alliance says its members have donated $40 million over the past five years to help in their communities. Another key initiative is to mentor young Black players at all levels. In June it counseled Black players who had been selected in the draft.
“We tell them what it’s like to be Black in this game,” Gordon said. “Tell them what to expect, like the people before us did. But the dope thing is, we’re having a little bit different of a conversation than the mentors before us had with us. We’re trying to make sure we’re not telling them how to survive playing Major League Baseball. We’re telling them how to thrive being Black and playing Major League Baseball.”
Gordon and other members of The Players Alliance have pointed out that a majority of the Black players in the game are stars, rather than middle-of-the-road players.
“You’ve got to be perfect to be a Black player,” Gordon said. “We’re labeled as ‘athletes.’ Not baseball players. Athletes. It’s not my fault you weren’t born athletic. So why do I have to be labeled an athlete and not just a good baseball player? Every time you guys write a story about a prospect, if he’s a Black kid, the first thing you label a Black kid, is ‘raw.’ Why do we have to be raw?”
The discrimination faced by Black players, even at the major league level, “never lessens for us,” Gordon said. “I’m sorry. But you know what? I’m not sorry. It’s not our fault. We’re just more scared than anything. We’re not here to ruffle anybody’s feathers, or even to get ahead of anybody. We just want to be on the same playing field. Make the playing field even.”
Gordon said he hopes The Players Alliance is an important step in making that happen.
“I believe we’re going to get some change here soon,” he said. “A big takeaway, I don’t think this is going to help those of us that are playing right now.
“This is bigger than us. This is for, hopefully, our kids; our kids’ kids. Something like that. It’s going to be a while. But we’re going to get it right. It’s not something that’s going to be over and done with in 2020. We’re in it for the long haul.”
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