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Dave Roberts on utilizing his platform to talk out in opposition to injustice: ‘If not now, when?’

by Rowan Kavner

Amongst various congratulatory messages Dave Roberts obtained after successful the World Sequence, one stood out specifically from a person the Dodger supervisor had by no means spoken with immediately.

The voicemail got here from Cito Gaston, the primary and solely different Black supervisor in Main League Baseball to information his workforce to a World Sequence title. It was an amazing feeling for Roberts, who was taking part in school baseball at UCLA when Gaston’s Blue Jays went back-to-back in 1992 and 1993.

“You fast forward 27 years, and for him to reach out to me was pretty humbling,” Roberts mentioned. “It was pretty amazing.”

The decision signified the significance of his accomplishment.

In 2016, Roberts and the Nationals’ Dusty Baker turned the primary Black managers to face off within the postseason. Final yr, Roberts turned the second Black supervisor and the primary Asian-American supervisor to win a championship. He’s additionally the fourth Black supervisor to steer his workforce to a World Sequence look, together with Gaston, Baker and Ron Washington.

Within the midst of managing one of many perennial powerhouses within the sport, going to a few World Sequence in 4 years and ending the job in 2020, there wasn’t a lot time afforded for Roberts ­– the primary minority supervisor of the Dodgers — to suppose on a bigger scale about what it meant for him to win a title.

“I don’t really take the step back to realize it means to other people, what I’m doing and some of the accomplishments that I’ve been fortunate to achieve,” Roberts mentioned. “But when you get a phone call like that, it kind of takes you aback. It just brought a big smile to my face.”

Roberts’ championship occurred on the finish of a yr through which race in sports activities got here to the forefront. Months earlier than the Dodgers hoisted their trophy, the dying of George Floyd sparked worldwide protests. Roberts mentioned afterward he had a troublesome time getting the picture out of his head. It caught with him.

In conversations that ensued along with his household, he mentioned he apologized to his children that it appeared like so little floor had been gained since a long time prior and the times of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson. He hoped that folks would take heed to the ache behind the protests that adopted, and he was adamant {that a} return to normalcy wasn’t adequate. He turned extra vocal about the necessity to create change.

“I think it really hit home this year for me, where I had a hard time sort of identifying kind of who I was, having biracial parents,” mentioned Roberts, the son of an African American father and Japanese mom. “I wasn’t victim to as much of the discrimination or racism as many of my friends, my dad in particular, as he was growing up in Houston.”

Roberts’ father, Waymon, was the primary and solely Black scholar at his highschool earlier than becoming a member of the Marine Corps at 18 years previous. Roberts mentioned his dad sometimes alluded to what he went by coping with racism and fights, however he spared the small print in an effort to guard his son.

“He just wanted me to be proud of who I was and where I came from,” Roberts mentioned. “But not being dark-skinned, not speaking Japanese, my sister and I were sort of in the middle.”

On a race in sports activities panel dialogue this offseason, Roberts lamented not taking a stronger stand prior to now when it got here to race. He mentioned he felt he “was guilty of pushing things under the rug and moving forward.”

“As I was a ballplayer and athlete, I always kind of felt that the right thing to do was stay in my lane,” Roberts defined afterward. “With my parents’ upbringing, it was always kind of, ‘Treat people the way you want to be treated with respect.’ That’s kind of how I’ve lived my life on the field, off the field.’”

Floyd’s dying and the general public outcry that adopted put issues into context for Roberts, who determined to make use of his platform and converse out extra freely.

“There was just something in me that just felt, if not now, when?” Roberts mentioned.

Three months after Floyd’s dying, the Dodgers took a stand. They have been amongst various skilled sports activities groups to protest in opposition to social injustice. Within the Dodgers’ case, the choice to protest their recreation in San Francisco got here days after the taking pictures of Jacob Blake by police in Wisconsin. All three NBA playoff video games scheduled to happen that day have been additionally postponed.

At this offseason’s digital winter conferences, when Roberts was requested what one second stood out most from his championship season, he thought again additional than October. His reply was the sport the Dodgers protested in August.

“That was really something that I’ll never forget, having players really vulnerable and talking about their feelings, concerns, thoughts and misunderstandings of the Black player,” Roberts mentioned. “That was really powerful.”

He mentioned it was simple to level to that second within the visiting clubhouse in San Francisco as a result of, in his expertise, racism has so hardly ever been mentioned overtly throughout the recreation that manner.

“You’ve got guys from different parts of the world, different parts of the country, and it always worked because the commonality was baseball,” he mentioned. “But now, when you’re talking about racism and politics in a clubhouse, I didn’t know which way it was going to go, because emotions can start running high. I’d like to have known which way it was going to go, but you just never know until you know. I think I was just so proud of the way our guys listened and received everyone’s thoughts.”

On the day the Dodgers protested their recreation, Mookie Betts entered Roberts’ workplace and informed him he wasn’t going to play. Roberts determined he wasn’t going to handle. Then-first base coach George Lombard — whose mom was a civil rights activist who walked with King — mentioned he wasn’t going to teach. And Clayton Kershaw mentioned he wasn’t going to play. The workforce made a collective choice to take a seat the sport out.

Roberts, Betts, Kershaw and Kenley Jansen delivered the message to the media. Roberts mentioned it was emotional. He was happy with his gamers. That day had simply as highly effective an affect on them.

“I was already tight with everybody in the clubhouse, but now that I know that everybody has my back even more than I already thought means a lot,” Betts mentioned afterward. “I’ll always remember this day and always remember this team having my back.”

Roberts believed the expertise, and the way in which his gamers listened to 1 one other, introduced his workforce nearer collectively and motivated everybody to be higher.

The objective of the team-driven discussions final season was for everybody concerned to develop from the expertise. That meant escaping a consolation zone, which is typically essential to spur consciousness, understanding and, in the end, change.

“I preach to our guys all the time about being comfortable being uncomfortable,” Roberts mentioned. “For me to speak on politics or social issues is different, and it’s uncomfortable for me, but I just feel that right is right and I needed to speak up for what’s right and continue to do so.”

Roberts’ work final yr earned him the Brotherhood Award from the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, given to a person who serves as a tireless mannequin of neighborhood service and social justice. In any case that transpired final yr, what Roberts discovered from the expertise that everybody has extra capability and bandwidth “to do it all.”

“I say that in the sense of, and myself included, you can manage and still tackle some other more important issues and still do your job well,” he mentioned. “I saw that in myself and my players that we can do it all and really make an impact with our fans on the field, being in their living rooms every night, but also more importantly off the field.”

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