Braves’ Toussaint joins Players Alliance to help Black community during pandemic

Braves pitcher Touki Toussaint took part in an event sponsored by the Players Alliance to distribute food during the pandemic.

Credit: Photo courtesy of The Players Alliance

Credit: Photo courtesy of The Players Alliance

Braves pitcher Touki Toussaint took part in an event sponsored by the Players Alliance to distribute food during the pandemic.

Right-handed pitcher Touki Toussaint, the only Black player on the Braves’ 40-man roster, was in a better place mentally and spiritually this week than he was June 1, when he wrote this on an Instagram post during the protests over George Floyd’s death:

I am ANGRY. I am SAD. I am TIRED. Seeing a 5 year old yesterday wear a shirt say “please don’t shoot me” broke my soul in half. He shouldn’t have to wear that shirt. He shouldn’t have to be worrying about any of that. This is the world we live in!?

Toussaint’s world, at least Sunday at Douglass High School on the west side, was more uplifting, less disheartening. Behind his mask protecting him from the coronavirus, you could tell there was a smile, or two.

Toussaint was part of a national effort by the Players Alliance, an organization of Black professional baseball players, to feed the Black community in crisis from COVID-19. At least 200 cars streamed through the school parking lot for several hours to pick up boxes of fresh vegetables, dairy products, cereal, and some new baseball gear. The Black community in Atlanta, and elsewhere, is bearing the brunt of the pandemic and professional athletes are rallying.

Toussaint helped give out food with other pro players, including former Phillies star Ryan Howard, and Seattle Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis of Snellville, who was the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year. The group included outfielder Trey Harris, the Braves 2019 Minor League Batter of the Year, who is from Powder Springs, and Braves minor league outfielder Justin Dean, who is from Greenville, S.C.

“It’s all about picking each other up,” Toussaint said. “You give back. I had no choice but to be here for my community. This has been a great event.”

Toussaint, Harris, and Dean were especially grateful to the Braves organization for its sizable donation, which included 350 boxes filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, and other fresh vegetables and fruit. Of the 15 stops so far on the Players Alliance tour, which has included New York City and Washington, D.C., a representative for the tour said the Braves donated the most food of any organization. The club provided so much food, Toussaint said the Players Alliance also was able to donate to three Atlanta homeless shelters.

The Atlanta Braves Foundation facilitated a network of outreach with the Players Alliance, which included the club’s Cobb Community Food Fleet partnership with Noonday Association. The Braves foundation promoted the event and collaborated with Julian English, a 2006 graduate of Douglass High, and owner of “Julian Jeans,” to donate 600 coats to the event.

“I like to see them stepping up in the community, it matters to me my organization responded like this,” Harris said. “I’m excited they were able to give back today and put their hand forward.”

The Braves were criticized in 2016 for moving out of downtown Atlanta’s Turner Field to the suburbs. The Braves reasoned it was a real estate business decision to move to Cobb County, and it would put them closer to their season-ticket base.

“The Black community is huge in Atlanta, and for the Braves to recognize that is huge,” Dean said.

In June, Major League Baseball was slow to recognize the country’s racial reckoning. Its Black players, who make up 8% of big leaguers, criticized MLB for a nine-day delay in responding to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer and the ensuing protests. The Black players then mustered an industry-wide response among themselves.

“It went from nothing to something, real quick,” said Toussaint, who warmed up before games in the outfield with a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. “We got the message out. With everything going on, we had to speak up; guys were sitting out Jackie Robinson Day.

“My mom always told me, ‘Be the light you want to see.’”

Toussaint, Harris, and Dean said the Braves’ hierarchy in the front office and the organization’s field managers were in touch with each of them as national protests grew louder. Toussaint said he sat down for several meetings with Braves executives.

“They reached out to me, talked to me several times,” Toussaint said. “We had a meeting about what was going on right before opening day. They said, ‘We’re with you.’”

Being “with” Toussaint means understanding what he has endured being Black in America. He said he has been handcuffed by police for driving a “nice” car. He was told when he was younger he could not date a white girl because he was Black. It is not easy being Black in a sport with predominantly white fans, who may, or may not, be “with” Toussaint on issues of racial justice.

Dean said his manager with Single-A Rome, Matt Tuiasosopo, reached out and said, “I’m here if you need me.” Dean also heard support from Ron Knight, the Braves’ assistant director of Minor League Operations, who is Black.

Toussaint may be the only Black player on the big league 40-man roster, but Dean said the Braves pipeline is starting to fill up with more diversity. He said he knows the club drafted at least four Black players in 2020. The organization has 14 Black players, including Toussaint.

In the birth city of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it is important the Black community be represented by the Braves, Dean said.

“As a Black man, I would love to play in Atlanta,” Dean said. “You see the turnout here today.

There is a strong Black culture in Atlanta, and I would love to be a part of it.”