Mookie Betts, Andrew McCutchen and more mark Jackie Robinson Day

ByJoon Lee ESPN logo
Saturday, August 29, 2020

As Major League Baseball commemorates Jackie Robinson on Friday and Saturday, a wave of players, coaches and executives are expressing their gratitude for the Brooklyn Dodgers legend and civil rights icon.

The scheduled celebration of Robinson and his legacy comes on the heels of multiple teams deciding this week not to play their games in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

MLB released a short film narrated by Mookie Betts and directed by Randy Wilkins that features Robinson's words and images of baseball stars such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Curt Flood interspersed with pictures and videos of protests past and present and statements such as "Black Lives Matter" and "Black Trans Lives Matter."

"I cannot say I have it made while our country drives full speed ahead to a deeper rift between men and women of varying colors, speeds along a course towards more and more racism. Life is not a spectator sport," Betts reads in the film. "If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you're wasting your life."

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen said the remembrance of Robinson this year feels especially timely, considering the state of social unrest across the United States.

"We're not only celebrating Jackie Robinson Day as the person he was, breaking the color barrier, really being the start of the whole civil rights movement," McCutchen said. "He always stood for what he believed in. It's come full circle. Ultimately, I feel like that's what we're doing right now."

After announcing that members of The Players Alliance -- more than 100 Black current and former players -- would donate their salaries from Thursday's and Friday's games to support the effort to combat racial inequality and aid Black families and communities affected by recent events, the group released a video featuring several prominent active and retired players, including Betts, Curtis Granderson and CC Sabathia.

New York Mets first baseman Dominic Smith reflected on the impact of Robinson's legacy on his own life.

"I want to thank Jackie Robinson for all the sacrifice and hard work he put in to break the barriers for so many minorities across the world," Smith said. "Without Jackie, I wouldn't be here, and I can't thank him enough. His perseverance and hard work inspired me and the next generation to come. Happy Jackie Robinson Day, and I hope to make him proud."

Baltimore Orioles first-base coach Anthony Sanders shared how he sees the impact of Robinson's legacy on the current generation.

"Jackie Robinson is who I am. It's who my family, my wife and my kids are," Sanders said. "It's what baseball has given me. ... To get here for the first time as a major league coach and see how my youth get the opportunity to play travel ball and travel across the country and play college ball and do the stuff they love and the young African American presence we have on this team, seeing these kids get to the big leagues for the first time and go through some of this stuff, none of this happens without what Jackie did."

Boston Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said Major League Baseball needs to reflect more deeply on Robinson's legacy beyond his breaking of barriers.

"I think now is also a really good time to get beyond the short, kids' book version of Jackie Robinson's story and recognize that his story was not just about breaking the color line in baseball but also about very strong, very passionate, very uncompromising stances on some of these issues that are unfortunately still with us today, and we need to shine a light on that, too," Bloom said. "The events of this country have done a lot to shine a lot on that. We need to make sure if we're upholding the legacy of Jackie Robinson that we don't run from the things that might not fit neatly in the pages of a children's book but are important nonetheless."

Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward said president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and other Cubs front-office members are donating their paychecks, similar to the actions of The Players Alliance.

"Theo reached out to me this afternoon making me aware, himself, [business operations president] Crane Kenney, and they'll open to others in the front office, they're going to be donating their salaries from the other day and from today as well to The Players Alliance to go toward the Jackie Robinson Foundation," said Heyward, who was the lone member of the Cubs to sit out Wednesday. "Those are things they're doing to take action."

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler also said he would be joining the effort.

MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark released a statement to celebrate Robinson's legacy.

"The events of recent days, weeks and months serve as a stark and unfortunate reminder that Jackie Robinson's fight for racial equality in our society endures," Clark said. "As we recognize his legacy today, players of all races and backgrounds join together to continue the work of Jackie and all of the civil rights leaders who suffered and sacrificed before and after him so that all of our children can one day grow up in a society that offers genuine equality -- free of fear, free of discrimination and free to pursue their dreams."

The Chicago White Soxshared thoughts from shortstop Tim Anderson on his appreciation of Robinson's impact on his career.

"Every year, Jackie Robinson Day is a time where I'm able to reflect. I think of how much appreciation I have for this guy and all that he's done for the game of baseball," Anderson said. "He's paved the way for so many people, on and off the field. He's laid a foundation for Black boys and girls all over the world, showing them that they can do anything they put their minds to, even if all odds are stacked against them. He laid the groundwork for men like me -- Black men who are exploring and embracing exactly who they are without apologizing for it."