Behind Kenny Williams, White Sox engage with nationwide protests

A week after we discussed the White Sox’s conspicuous silence on the nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the club formally entered the forum on Monday, and with Kenny Williams leading the way.

It wasn’t the first gesture White Sox personnel had made. Williams and Rick Hahn participated in supporting Black Lives Matter and Major League Baseball’s “United for Change” initiative during the MLB Draft, and Williams shared some thoughts with Ken Rosenthal afterward from his perspective of one of the few African-American executives in Major League Baseball:

Williams added, “I’m not going to get into my feelings on the violence and the looting, except to say I’m not for it. I never will be for it. But it didn’t surprise me, because when you take away hope and vision for a better life from people, then on top of that you tell them how, when and where you want them to protest against you – which was the case with the Colin Kaepernick kneel, and that being rejected so soundly – you’re asking for trouble.

“I’m not saying the type of trouble that happened was warranted. All I’m saying is that it didn’t surprise me.”

But all this was a preface for the club’s big move — posting the remarkable 34-minute long video embedded above, in which Williams discusses the nationwide unrest and the various forms of racism he and his family have experienced during his lifetime.

Williams responds deliberately and sometimes emotionally to questions and prompts from off camera, covering what the organization ignored in its initial response. He’s asked about his reaction to the George Floyd video, and he answers bluntly:

“We watched a murder right in front of our eyes. We’ve seen it before. I don’t know that we’ve seen it that casual before, that total disregard to humanity before.”

He also raised the topic of racism in the White Sox’s backyard, telling stories of the hate mail he received after Jerry Reinsdorf hired him as general manager in 2000, including one message applied directly to his house (“No n***** should run the Chicago WHITE Sox”; Williams did not censor the word).

But interspersed with the often wearisome weight of his experience is hope — cautious optimism — that even Williams finds surprising. He mentioned it to Rosenthal in the aforementioned article, and he shared the same sentiments here — that once the peaceful protests sustained their energy after the initial rush of looting and violence, he found feelings he didn’t know he still had.

“Once the violence and the looting came about, I thought, ‘Oh no. They’re going to drown out all the peaceful protests out there and those positive voices.’ Once that happened where the positive voices and the protests took that shape, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to think, I didn’t know what to say, because I had never seen people come together like that for a Black cause. Not in my lifetime.”

Williams cited the diversity of the protests multiple times, stressing the factor as crucial because, “Black people alone cannot erase racism, no more than Black people could have solved slavery on our own. We need white people to do that. And it appears to me — maybe I’m overly optimistic, but it appears to me — that people have seen enough.”

And near the video’s conclusion, Wlliams offered encouragement toward that goal.

“I gotta tell you … I don’t know how this is going to come off, but you white people can march your ass off. [laughs] I… I have been impressed, and I have been impressed with the union, the unity that has come about as a result of it.”

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Shingos Cheeseburgers

Credit where it’s due to the White Sox for putting out something so in depth, raw, and difficult to watch at times, particularly after a lack of meaningful response over the last couple weeks. I appreciated the stripped down production and focus on Williams as it did a terrific job of allowing his emotions to take center stage.

Whatever impression KW has left on Sox fans over the past 20 years the one way I certainly would not have described him as is ‘vulnerable’. Kudos to him for offering up his life experiences with that level of candor.

It’s a rare statement from a cynic like myself but well done, White Sox.

This is a must see video. Very powerful. Kenny is not preaching. He’s opening up in a personal way. It was fascinating and provides a lot of perspective. Thanks for posting.

lastof12

I’ll never know what it’s like to be judged by the color of my skin. I pray that our nation gets it’s heads out of its collective arses and we find an equal solution to the injustices of black people. I watched The 13th last night. It’s eye opening. This has been going on too long.

asinwreck

Two thoughts:

1) Credit to Kenny Williams, whose comments should make any viewer pause to consider how unwelcoming baseball has been and continues to be for African Americans.

2) It is unfortunate that Kenny Williams has to be the spokesman for the White Sox’ response. His statement: “Black people alone cannot erase racism. No more than Black people could have solved slavery” matters not only for society in general, but for MLB and each of its teams.

In my workplace, when we discuss recruiting and retaining colleagues, one of the lessons HR instills is to not make, say, a transgender colleague the spokesperson for transgender issues within the workplace. That is an unfair and exhausting burden. I am glad that Theo Epstein is doing some of the work among executives league-wide, as that reflects an understanding that these burdens should by lifted by those who have benefited from inequities. Having ownership (Jerry and the board) take a public lead on discussing where the organization has fallen short and what steps it will take to address those shortcomings matters. Having the league (Manfred) do the same would not only be the right thing to do, but would also demonstrate a modicum of competence that has not been evident in 2020.

iowasox1971

I get the impression from reading this site that some people will never be happy with what the White Sox do on this issue. Fair enough. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

I, however, feel the White Sox have done enough, especially because I see them as being ahead of the curve as far as minority hiring for key positions (such as Jerry Manuel, Kenny Williams, Ozzie Guillen and Rick Renteria), their involvement in the ACE program and their charitable efforts in the community.

If people want to think that the Cubs (based on a few statements by Epstein) actually care more about minorities or have made greater progress than the Sox, then that’s their opinion, too. But if you’re going to praise the Cubs on this issue, please take a much closer look at the family that owns them. You might change your mind.

Joliet Orange Sox

I have also had HR instill that lesson about not having one person shoulder the burden of being the spokesperson for a group. I agree that we all need to be advocates for equity and respecting and valuing each other for our differences. It is important for Theo Epstein and everyone else to step up.

That said, there is value in individuals who’ve directly experienced racism telling their stories. I found Kenny Williams’s candor made this video thoughtful and engaging and I encourage those who didn’t watch it to watch. I don’t think Kenny Williams is the spokesperson for the Sox response as much as he is a man who wanted to tell his story. He’s not the spokesperson for the Sox response because I would say the Sox have still not really responded.

asinwreck

Agreed; very well said.