Excerpt from remarks to Boston College Chief Executives Club
March 6, 2019
One of the things we’ve been very focused on under the Henry ownership group has been diversity/inclusion at Fenway Park, not just within our roster makeup, but within the fan base and within our front office base, our employees. You also laid out making sure that we grow the game by reaching out to a diverse fan base and audience, and I know it’s a huge goal of yours. You just got, a couple nights ago, an honor from the Jackie Robinson Foundation. How are things going with respect to that goal that you laid out there for yourself?
Well, it is an ambitious goal for us. We start from the proposition that step one is to make sure that we have adequate diversity in the product that we put on the field. We have 35 percent of our players are from outside the US. So we have great diversity in terms of particularly Latino representation. Only 8.5 percent of our players are African American. That’s a number we’re working really hard at, and we’re working on that number from the grassroots up.
What does that mean? We have invested—when I took over, we spent literally a pittance on youth initiatives. It is one of our biggest undertakings, biggest areas of investment. It is particularly focused on underserved areas, diverse communities. It involves building youth academies, supporting programs that already exist, developing new ones, like the Elite Development Invitational, which is run at Vero Beach, which is where Jackie Robinson went to spring training. We bring in largely—almost exclusively—diverse players from around the country, give them an opportunity to play for two weeks with former major league players as their coaches in order to develop that pipeline of talent.
And for a relatively—I mean, it’s aggressive compared to where we were, but relatively small in terms of our overall business—investment, we are seeing great returns. So the last seven years, 20 percent of our first-round draft choices have been African American, compared to 8.5 percent in our major league complement. Those first-rounders are disproportionately likely to make it to the major leagues. That 20 percent that I talked about—almost every one of those kids has a touch with a Major League Baseball program, whether it’s Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities, the academies, whatever. And that’s important to us, because we don’t think you’re going to do the best possible job in terms of diversity in your fan base unless you have adequate diversity on the field. So that’s sort of step one.
We think another really important issue is what our front offices look like. Being a long-term thinker on these issues, this is another bottom-up initiative for us. We’ve developed a diversity fellowship program. We had 30-something kids in the program—young people, men, and women. And our first one just got a permanent job with the Cincinnati Reds. We’re looking to build that program out.