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Gary Sheffield: ‘I ain’t in no ’hope’ business. I believe. I believe we can do better.’

The former Major League Baseball star says he talks often with his three youngest sons about current events.
Former Major League Baseball star Gary Sheffield, center poses for a family portrait at the Helen S. Howarth Community Park in Pinellas Park last weekend. From left are: Jaden, 17; wife DeLeon; Noah, 14; Christian, 12 and Garrett, 21.
Former Major League Baseball star Gary Sheffield, center poses for a family portrait at the Helen S. Howarth Community Park in Pinellas Park last weekend. From left are: Jaden, 17; wife DeLeon; Noah, 14; Christian, 12 and Garrett, 21. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]
Published Jun. 19, 2020
Updated Jun. 20, 2020

This Father’s Day, we reached out to a number of our sports landscape’s most prominent African-American dads to talk about the ongoing quest for racial equality. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Gary Sheffield always says what is on his mind.

The Tampa native wore the label of being outspoken and controversial — always proudly — during his 22-year career in Major League Baseball, and still today as the father of five sons.

At this time of national discourse about police brutality and systemic racism, Sheffield, 51, is even more motivated to keep speaking out.

That includes a gripping first-person article for The Players’ Tribune headlined “Do You Believe Me Now?” recounting the 1986 incident when he and uncle Dwight Gooden were beaten by Tampa police, and a 2015 encounter when he was pulled over on the way to Miami and had his car searched and a tense confrontation with officers. In both cases, Sheffield wrote, “I could’ve been killed.”

Sheffield shared those stories and others with the Tampa Bay Times because he sees this as a time when change is at least possible. Youngest sons Jaden (17), Noah (14) and Christian (12) come to Sheffield and wife DeLeon frequently to talk about the “honest truth” of the current events, and how they have reasons to be scared.

Gary Sheffield pals around with son, Jaden, 17, between games at the Helen S. Howarth Community Park in Pinellas Park last Sunday. Sheffield coaches a Florida Heat youth team that includes several of his sons.
Gary Sheffield pals around with son, Jaden, 17, between games at the Helen S. Howarth Community Park in Pinellas Park last Sunday. Sheffield coaches a Florida Heat youth team that includes several of his sons. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]

“I always tell my kids if you’re ever in a situation, and somebody is going to do wrong, whether they’re black or white or indifferent, you walk away,” Sheffield said. “Because the one thing they’re going to do is point to you. They’re going to point to you. The other ones are going to get off and you’re the one that’s going to pay the price. Whether it’s getting you in college, whether it’s getting you in another situation, because what’s going to go on your record ain’t going to go on theirs.

“We always have these conversations. Always. And you feel guilty sometimes because you have to look at people that way. I wasn’t taught to hate, I wasn’t taught to dislike. I was taught to be competitive in winning and earning what you get.

“I would never say it’s too late for change. But I will say is that any person that ever speaks their heart and has things in their heart, if you’re apologetic about it, your apology is on the front burner for me. But it will not be accepted until we see the results. It’s the same way God goes about it with every man, child or indifferent, your sins are forgiven but your track record going forward has to be on board with your apology. …

“I have belief. I ain’t in no ‘hope’ business. I believe. I believe we can do better. I believe we will do better. I believe right now, they don’t have a choice. Because we’re not accepting no more. And when people decide we ain’t dealing with it no more, you’ve got to deal with us.

“When you’re going to one funeral, it’s one thing. But when you don’t know if it’s going to be yours, too — not saying killing people, I’m saying your punishment is going to be the same as mine. So when your punishment is the same as mine, that’s the only thing you respect and pay attention to ‘Oh, I could possibly could be put in the same situation he’s put in.'

“When the white community gets put in the same situation you get put in, then they’ll respond differently.

“(The boys) absolutely come to us about it. … And they are scared. They’re scared. People don’t understand, when you walk around always feeling like you’re the elephant in the room and you’re scared, and you’ve got to say the right thing and do the right thing and speak their language and all of this. … All that brings is anxiety, all it brings is health problems, all it brings is stress. It brings a lot of things. But if you walk around this world free and not having to worry about that, you’re living free and we’re not.

“So I refuse to be on earth and not living free.”