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Servais: Mariners’ 1-game protest will be part of a meaningful moment ‘only if there’s change’

Mariners players kneel and raise their fists prior to the national anthem earlier this season. (Getty)

A day after the Mariners decided unanimously as a team to not play a game as a means of protest against racial inequality in America, their manager was more proud than ever of his players.

Drayer: Mariners players use their platform, explain decision to not play

“I wake up this morning feeling even better about our team and how we’re wired and doing the right thing,” Scott Servais said Thursday morning. “… I couldn’t have been any more proud of our players and the discussions we had as a team yesterday. Sports are a privilege, and we get the opportunity to play an awesome game, we get paid for it. These guys, they’re the best in the world and they get to compete on this level every day. But it is a privilege. It’s a privilege of a functioning society, and our players made a decision yesterday to take a step backwards and to back off the gas here, to create some awareness about something that we need changed.

“We need change and again I commend our players for continuing to do the right thing.”

The Mariners joined teams across sports in the country making the call to not play scheduled games Wednesday or Thursday, but it was especially meaningful for the MLB franchise with the most Black players – eight on the active roster and 11 on the 40-man (prior to the trade of Taijuan Walker on Thursday morning). But when it comes to the word “meaningful,” Servais was clear that his team’s decision to postpone a game wouldn’t fit that term unless it helps lead to something.

“Only if there’s change,” Servais said when asked if the Mariners’ decision will be looked back at as a meaningful moment. “I think people need to understand what change looks like, because I don’t think everybody’s quite aware yet in how you can make change. Whether it’s your ability to register and go out and vote, to do different things to allow yourself to have a voice, educating family members, friends, people around you.

“I think it’s really important that people try to understand that we all grew up and were raised in different environments. So to try to empathize with people when you’ve never walked in their shoes is difficult, but that’s how change happens. You have to listen, you have to grow as a person, and then hopefully those around you that are close to you, if you can help them grow, and then you look up and say, ‘Hey, remember when this happened?’ It was George Floyd, it was Jacob Blake, there were things going on in society that professional athletes, because they do have a platform, decided to voice their opinions and to take a step back. Again, I keep my fingers crossed that we will look back on that, but it will only happen if there’s change.”

The protests and strikes happening in sports have been in response to events in Kenosha, Wisc., where Blake, a Black man, was shot Sunday seven times in the back by a police officer. Blake survived the shooting but his family has said he is paralyzed from the waist down. Meanwhile in Kenosha, another shooting during ensuing protests left two dead and another injured this week. It all hits close to home for Servais, who is from Wisconsin – “To see what’s happened there, it has been upsetting,” he said. But it also hits close for Seattle’s players, at least one of which recently experienced racism first-hand, Servais said.

“We had a player share a story in the team meeting (Wednesday) 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, referring to the team’s alternate site where minor league players are training. “It’s real. It is real in all of our country right now, and it’s sad where it’s at. But the only way this is going to get better is that people recognize it and they take it personal and they do everything they can to make change.”

Included below is a video of some of Servais’ comments, plus a transcription of excerpts from his pregame media availability Thursday.

Mariners manager Scott Servais

Opening statement: “Certainly yesterday was a historic day around sports, the different leagues around our country. For me, yesterday was a day of action is how I would term it. Everybody understands how our ball club is put together, we have eight Black players on our team, and with the things that have happened, again, in society, our players wanted to see action, and I commend them for that. Very proud of the group, the leadership that they showed yesterday. This is an unprecedented times 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. … On top of that, I think the Mariners organization has done an awesome job in trying to educate people within our organization, the employees, educate people in our community on the changes that we want to make, to try to get rid of the systemic racism that is going on. Yesterday, it was a very unique day, but one that at the end of the day as I went home last night with no game being played, I couldn’t have been any more proud of our players and the discussions we had as a team yesterday. Sports are a privilege, and we get the opportunity to play an awesome game, we get paid for it. These guys, they’re the best in the world and they get to compete on this level every day. But it is a privilege. It’s a privilege of a functioning society, and our players made a decision yesterday to take a step backwards and to back off the gas here, to create some awareness about something that we need changed. We need change and again I commend our players for continuing to do the right thing.”

How the Mariners decided to not play Wednesday: “We had some discussions. A couple different players individually grabbed me yesterday afternoon, probably around 2 o’clock. … Discussed how they were feeling. Then a group of about six or seven of our players came into my office about an hour after… and we had another talk about where they were at. We had a team meeting after that, so the discussions carried on for quite some time. We, as a team, unanimously decided that we should not play that game last night. It was an interesting day no doubt. I wake up this morning feeling even better about our team and how we’re wired and doing the right thing.”

On if the Mariners not playing Wednesday will be looked back on as part of a meaningful moment: “Only if there’s change. I think people need to understand what change looks like, because I don’t think everybody’s quite aware yet in how you can make change. Whether it’s your ability to register and go out and vote, to do different things to allow yourself to have a voice, educating family members, friends, people around you. I think it’s really important that people try to understand that we all grew up and were raised in different environments. So to try to empathize with people when you’ve never walked in their shoes is difficult, but that’s how change happens. You have to listen, you have to grow as a person, and then hopefully those around you that are close to you, if you can help them grow, and then you look up and say, ‘Hey, remember when this happened?’ It was George Floyd, it was Jacob Blake, there were things going on in society that professional athletes, because they do have a platform, decided to voice their opinions and to take a step back. Again, I keep my fingers crossed that we will look back on that, but it will only happen if there’s change.”

How the players will handle backlash for not playing Wednesday: “There’s one thing about our group, we’re very strong. … They’re very strong in their beliefs. … These are not just athletes. These are people. These are people that are afraid, they’re worried about loved ones, family members in different parts of the country. As many of you know, I’m from Wisconsin, and to see what’s happened there, it has been upsetting. How things will progress from here will tell a lot.”

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