Theo Epstein Backing Words with Money, Real Change Must Come Next

Theo Epstein didn’t mince words during a conference call with reporters to address the state of the Cubs, including the lack of diversity in their front office. His frank admissions and vow to improve going forward sounded more genuine than those of team chairman Tom Ricketts, who brushed aside his brother Pete’s insensitive language as an unintentional slight from a “respectable person.”

It’s no secret that Epstein’s politics run counter to those of his bosses, so the difference in tone is to be expected. Same goes for credibility, since he seems to be saying and doing things because he believes in them rather than as a requisite PR move to paper over another stain.

“It can be hard and it can be painful to look at ourselves, but when the problem is systemic, we all have to admit that we’re all part of the problem, and we all have to do better to become part of the solution,” Epstein said Monday. “And as a white person who’s had a lot of advantages and a lot of privilege, I can’t begin to walk in the shoes of a black person in this country or a black player in Major League Baseball.

“I think I can also look inward, too. I think that’s another step that we all have to take in society as well as in the game is being able to look hard at ourselves.”

Epstein has already started taking some of those steps, participating in local demonstrations and showing public support for Black Lives Matter. His laptop skin during Wednesday’s draft coverage was another small sign, but the announcement during that broadcast that he had rallied fellow baseball operations leaders to raise more $1 million in support of various organizations involved in the BLM movement carried even more weight.

Among those organizations are the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Equal Justice Initiative, Color of Change, Campaign Zero and the Jackie Robinson Foundation, all of which strive to combat injustice and promote racial equality. It’ll take a helluva lot more than $1 million to make a meaningful change — you can click any of those links to donate and/or learn more about the causes — but this is a damn good start.

Beyond just using his considerable financial means and spurring others to do the same, Epstein can perhaps have an even greater impact by following through on his promise to change baseball from within. The Cubs haven’t necessarily set the standard for inclusivity, nor have the Red Sox for that matter, and MLB as a whole has seen decreasing numbers of African-American players (just 7.7% last season) at a time when the opposite is true in other sports.

Epstein lamented that trend and spoke of the need to address it at the youth level, but admitted that it’s a difficult issue with no simple solutions. An honest assessment is the best place to start, then it’s a matter of realizing that most people are going to feel a little less comfortable if there are very few other faces who look like them. That goes for players as well as executives.

“To the extent that the clubhouses are not a welcome enough place for black players, we should all be asking ourselves what we can do to fix that problem. To the extent that we don’t have enough black general managers or black managers, I think we all need to look at ourselves, at our own practices.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned with systemic racism in general, the system doesn’t fix itself. It’s on each of us to take action to stand up and make some changes.”

Damn right, and those changes don’t happen immediately or without ongoing curation. For Epstein’s revelation to really mean something in the long run, he’s going to need to continue pushing it forward and keeping it in the public eye. That won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.

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