When Mariners manager Scott Servais woke up early Thursday morning, less than 24 hours from what had been an emotional, educational and unprecedented day in professional sports, where multiple teams in various leagues opted not to play in protest, he felt refreshed and at peace with what had transpired with his team.
After having discussions with several players early Wednesday afternoon, then a meeting with team’s “leadership council” of Dee Gordon, Kyle Seager and Marco Gonzales and watching as his players voted unanimously not to play their game that night against the Padres, Servais marveled at his players’ belief and commitment to the fight for social justice. It started with the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and carried on in the days and months that followed. Sunday’s police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, reinvigorated the players’ passion and resolve.
“I woke up this morning feeling even better about our team, and how we’re wired and doing the right thing,” he said in a pregame video conference call from San Diego.
Servais came to Thursday morning’s pregame media session with a statement that wasn’t prewritten but clearly had been thought about and processed and discussed during the time following cancellation of Wednesday’s game.
“Certainly yesterday was a historic day around sports with the different leagues around our country. For me, yesterday was a day of action, is how I would term it. Everybody understands how our ballclub is put together. We have eight Black players on our team, and with the things that have happened in society, our players wanted to see action. I commend them for that. I’m very proud of the group, and the leadership they showed yesterday. This is an unprecedented time in what we’re trying to deal with here, and how our players have handled this — they continue to speak up and to do the right thing. Yesterday coming into the ballpark, I knew there would be a lot of discussion about where this was going to head and the action we took. I’m very, very proud of our players.
“On top of that, I think the Mariners organization has done an awesome job in trying to educate people within our organization, employees, educate people in our community about the changes that we want to make to try to get rid of the systemic racism that is going on.”
As he spoke with players about the situation, Servais could feel the “raw” emotion from them. And it came out in the team meeting, when a few players spoke. Several of the white and Hispanic players felt the emotion and offered support.
“I think white players have really gotten a much better grasp of what has gone on in history, and they’ve learned a ton over the last couple months because of the relationships we have,” Servais said. “The fact that we have eight black players on our team right now, 11 on our 40-man roster, the conversation is ongoing, it is really good in our clubhouse. I wish our country was as disciplined in the conversations and were going like they are going in our clubhouse, I really do. Unfortunately, that’s probably not happening everywhere.”
The meeting also featured a player discussing a situation that most didn’t know about.
“We had a player share a story in the team meeting about a situation that just happened recently in Tacoma, where somebody drove by down the street and dropped the N word on them,” Servais said. “I mean it’s real; it is real all over our country right now; it’s sad where it’s at. But the only way this is going to get better is if people recognize it, and take it personal and they do everything they can to make change. It starts locally, state, federal, whatever. You’ve got to vote, people; you’ve got to vote.”
Servais understood there will be backlash toward the players’ decision, toward the organization for supporting them and toward professional sports and athletes, but he shrugged it off.
“We’re a family,” Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi said after Thursday’s doubleheader through interpreter Kevin Ando. “Our team, we all support each other very much. I think what we did yesterday was really important. We all stood up for something we truly believe in.”
Many of the team leaders who organized Wednesday’s protest weren’t made available to the media Thursday. Gordon is expected to speak on the topic Friday.
In a sport where participation of Black players has steadily decreased over the past 30 years for a variety of reasons, the Mariners have eight Black players on their active roster — the most in baseball. The 11 total players on the 40-man roster are also the most.
As widespread protests took place across the country following the death of Floyd, and the players he managed became increasingly vocal on social media and in media appearances, Servais talked with his players about the situation, wanting to understand them and their experiences as well as assuring them that the organization would support them.
After those conversations, he did some thinking of his own about his understanding of racial injustices. Admittedly, his knowledge was limited.
“I quickly came to the realization, I need to learn a lot about what’s happened in our country and educating myself,” he said. “And it’s really hard to help others or lead others when you’re not educated yourself. How you lead, how consistent you are, you have to tell the truth, and what you feel, but for me, I really needed educate myself. Along the way, I think I’m in a much better position to lead this group with what’s going on here.
“Whether it’s reading, it’s listening podcasts, it’s watching documentaries, it’s going to seminars and talking to people who are very, very educated in the different areas and not just things that have happened around the Seattle or the Pacific Northwest, but all over our country. I think I’m much better prepared than I certainly was 5-6 months ago, there’s no question about it. And along the way, I’m hoping that I’m helping our team, our coaching staff and our players.”