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The Rays place in the Black Lives Matter movement

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An interview with Shakeia Taylor on baseball’s role, historically and now

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As the national conversation on racism and police brutality continues in the United States, and as baseball grapples with whether it will return in 2020, it is important to consider the ongoing role the sport and the Rays have to play in furthering societal progress.

To that end, we invited Shakeia Taylor, a writer who focuses on connecting baseball’s history to the present, to provide insight on the Rays recent intersection with this national moment.

The Rays took one of the strongest stances in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in all of sports earlier this month, and were the first of only two MLB teams to pledge funds to causes fighting systematic racism. Does this matter?

While it is an extremely nice gesture, both the clear messaging and the funds, the Rays as well as all of MLB will need to do some reckoning with the role they have played in racism and bias being so prevalent in the league.

These statements should stand as starting places, not the first and final item.

Where do you think MLB team statements regarding racism have failed, and do later statements (e.g. by the Red Sox) evidence a genuine interest for teams to do better?

Pandering, timing, an inability to actually name the issues, using Jackie Robinson ahistorically and out-of-context. I’m not really sure I can speak to teams’ sincerity based on the timing.

These are organizations with tons of money. They have advisors for every little thing. I hope the delayed responses — well, some of them — were delayed because people were really considering what is the appropriate thing to say.

For the statements that fell short, I think they were trying really hard not to upset racists — which is a problem in itself.

It’s an extremely important time in history and while I want to think they are really going to try, I also understand the importance of “not looking racist” for a business.

Only two current Rays players have made statements in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement (Snell, Poche). Does this matter? Or, could this be the result of not having any players on the major league roster who grew up with the experience of being Black in America?

While I was paying some attention to player statements, I don’t think they *really* matter in the grand scheme.

We are well-beyond the need for athlete and celebrity endorsements, so to speak, of civil rights. We are in the “join us or get out of the way” phase and it’s not something many can appreciate right away.

In an ideal situation, every player would rise and speak out, but that’s not where we are. A lot of people are silent because they don’t know what to say. A lot of them are silent because they don’t agree that Black Lives Matter.

I don’t think not having any Black American players on the major league roster matters when it comes to individual player statements — but it does matter when you think back to the Rays statement, doesn’t it?

Do teams have a responsibility to educate their players, prospects, and staff who did not grow up with that experience?

So this is a tough one. I am of the mind that adults should self-educate. Whenever I want to know something, or learn about something, I go in search of information. There are scholars who have written fantastic books on race and culture. There are wonderful people on social media giving this information for free.

I believe players, prospects, and staff should have their own motivation in educating themselves on what it’s like to be Black in America. I think teams can supplement this, absolutely, but there has to be some personal motivation to be a better person first.

Three weeks into this national moment, what question are we not asking of MLB or the Rays?

Where’s your action plan for improving within your own organization?


Shakeia Taylor has been featured at SB Nation, Baseball Prospectus, and The Hardball Times. Her work was nominated for the prestigious SABR Analytics Conference Research Award in 2019. You can find links to her work here. You can follow her on twitter @curlyfro.