White Sox executive Ken Williams opens up about personal history facing racism


While baseball is mired in the details of a fight over money, there's a much more important fight going on across the United States: the fight for equality and racial justice.

And though baseball's financial argument is grabbing the biggest headlines, there are plenty inside the game turning their attention to those more important matters.

Ken Williams, the White Sox executive vice president and former general manager who built the 2005 championship team, has been impressed by the thousands of Americans taking to the streets across the country to protest police brutality against Black people in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. And he decided to share his thoughts on race and racism.

Williams, one of baseball's few Black executives, opened up in an extraordinary, must-watch interview the White Sox posted Monday afternoon.

The entire 34-minute interview is well worth everyone's time, with Williams delivering personal stories and recounting his family's history in a way that is not only captivating but emotional for both Williams and the viewer.

"I was asked the question not long ago by a very close white friend of mine, an older man, who asked what it was like to be Black," he said. "And my answer was, 'It's exhausting.'

"And at times, it has been more exhausting than others because at times, you want to give up,  you don't see hope, you don't see a vision for a better future.

"When I hear, 'I can't breathe,' I don't just hear it and see (Floyd) lying there, though. I have felt that — and others that I've had this conversation with, other Black men and women that I've had this conversation with — it has been difficult to breathe for a long time."

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Williams tells of the aftermath of his being named general manager 20 years ago and the racist messages and threats he received.

"When I was named general manager in October of 2000 and I go home and on the side of my house is spray painted, 'No n----- should run the Chicago White Sox,' capital W-H-I-T-E. It hurt. It hurt," he said. "And I called my father, and he told me, 'Go get your sons.' And I went inside and got my sons, who were 9, 11, 13 maybe, and I showed them what was written and I had to have a conversation about what it meant, about what it meant for them tomorrow. And I had to take a little bit of their innocence away.

"Because you've got to protect your kids. You've got to take a little bit of that innocence away in order to make sure that they're doing and saying the right things out there so they're not the next in what has become a long line of victims."

Williams shares his family's history. His godfather is John Carlos, who famously protested racial injustice at the 1968 Olympic Games. His father fought to become a firefighter in San Jose, California. His biological mother was one of the first Black Panthers. He shows a picture of his great-great-grandmother, who was a slave. He talks about having painful conversations with his own children.

And he says the current movement gives him optimism for the future.

"Once all the looting and the violence started, I thought, 'Oh no, they're going to drown out the peaceful protests 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.," he said. "For a Black cause? Not in my lifetime.

"What has surprised me — and I've got to say thank you to the people of all different backgrounds I've seen out in the streets saying, 'Black Lives Matter.' ... I had given up hope that in my lifetime I would see substantial gains in this area.

"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."

It's incredibly powerful and best taken in in full.

Watch Williams' entire interview below:

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