I recently had the pleasure to attend the MLB Diversity Business Summit in Phoenix, AZ. Getting right to it, I will say that Wendy Lewis and her staff put on a wonderful event. Wendy’s title is an impressive mouthful (Senior Vice President of Diversity Inclusion & Strategic Alliances, Major League Baseball), but the event was even more impressive. From beginning to end, there was important information being shared, connections being made and opportunities set forth and presented that were all geared toward helping those interested, including minorities and women, get into the game of baseball.
I attended the event on behalf of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and had the honor of participating in the summit’s opening, which included a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Following that, there was a “Fireside Chat” with MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds conducting a one-on-one interview with the Commissioner. The next panel focused on The Player Perspective on Diversity and Inclusion, and it included Kim Ng, Senior VP, Baseball Operations, MLB, recently retired MLB player LaTroy Hawkins, Billy Bean, VP, Inclusion & Social Responsibility, MLB, Luis González, former Major Leaguer and currently Special Assistant to the President & CEO, Arizona Diamondbacks, and former Major Leaguer Curtis Pride, who presently serves as MLB’s Ambassador of Inclusion.
Hands down, the star of this panel was Pride, who played 11 years in the Major Leagues and 23 years in professional baseball. What is truly amazing about his story is Pride is deaf. His recollections about his baseball journey were moving, inspiring, humorous and sobering, all in the same breath. He touched the crowd by sharing how baseball welcomed him in the fraternity despite his disability, and treated him “like one of the guys.” Amazing man.
From there it was on to panel discussions, job seeker interviews with Major League clubs and vendors, and networking opportunities galore. I met so many people – too many to name them all here – but a few are worth noting. Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, who I am looking forward to working with and on his behalf to garner support for the Museum; Tyrone Brooks, MLB’s Senior Director, Front Office & Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program (MLB has some titles, don’t they?!); and Victor Jones, Director of Career Services at Wilberforce University. Jones was at the summit scouting the land on behalf of his student charges at Wilberforce. I was impressed by his plan, his vision and his passion. I also had the pleasure of meeting scores of bright, energetic young people with a determination to work in baseball. We exchanged contact information and I am looking forward to being a help to them in any way that I can.
Lastly, I was blessed to serve on a panel discussing the complexity of the legal issues in baseball. The panel was moderated by Elizabeth Campbell, Partner & Chief Diversity Officer, Andrews Kurth (who is just a joy to be around!); the panelists were Paloma Zepeda Ahmadi, Labor Relations, MLB; Santiago Fernandez, Sr. VP & General Counsel, L.A. Dodgers; Nona Lee, Sr. VP & General Counsel, Arizona Diamondbacks and Ethan Orlinsky, Sr. VP, Legal, Business & Club Affairs, MLB. We had a great discussion on the many challenging legal issues facing the game today in the areas of intellectual property, collective bargaining, smokeless tobacco, player contracting, international play and others.
All in all, it was a rewarding two days, filled with hope and promise. Whether these twin virtues will be realized or deferred remains the heart of the matter. What is certain at this point is there is much work to be done and a long road to travel. Can’t speak for anybody else, but I got my walking shoes on and I’m already on the move.
Next up, we’ll take a look at some of the specific initiatives being undertaken by MLB, the MLBPA and others, to enhance diversity in the game from the field to the front office.