Gabe Kapler starts foundation to help underrepresented groups play sports

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Alex Pavlovic
·6 min read
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Kapler's foundation helps underrepresented groups play sports originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Perhaps the two most impactful moves that Gabe Kapler made in his first year with the Giants came because he listened. 

Kapler's decision to hire Alyssa Nakken as the first woman to hold a coaching position on a big league staff came after a month of informal conversations that, unbeknownst to Nakken, then a business side employee with the Giants, served as an unofficial interview.

Months later, Kapler threw himself into intense conversations with his players, his staff, his bosses and members of the community, ultimately deciding that he would take a knee during the national anthem to protest systemic racism and police brutality. 

As the season went on, Kapler never stopped seeking new perspectives, and that has helped lead him to his latest pursuit. MLB organizations are not representative of the communities they serves, and Kapler has spent much of his time over the past year talking to members of marginalized communities about the challenges of getting into the sports business.

This week, he launched Pipeline for Change, a nonprofit foundation that will provide resources and guidance for people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and others from underrepresented groups who hope to find a career path in baseball. The foundation will provide grants, all initially financed by Kapler, with the first one likely given out within the next couple of months.

It also will come at the problem from other angles, whether that's providing information, mentorship or networking opportunities. Kapler said he intends "to use every resource at my fingertips" to help underrepresented communities continue to break into baseball and professional sports. 

"One thing I've heard is that we need to create exposure about what jobs are available," Kapler said. "The second thing I've heard is that once we've hired individuals in some of these marginalized communities, we need to be working on mentorship programs for them and advocacy programs for them so that they get the same opportunities as their white male counterparts get every step of the way.

That's going to have to be very intentional on the part of the current leadership in sports."

The foundation was formed by Kapler and his longtime business partner, Stephanie St. Amour, who serves as the executive director and will run the day to day operations of Pipeline for Change. The problem they are attempting to tackle is an enormous one, and change has come slowly.

The Marlins hired Kim Ng to run their baseball operations department this offseason, but they are the only team with a woman in that role. Kenny Williams of the White Sox is the only African-American leading a baseball operations department, and Al Avila of the Tigers is the only Latino.

St. Amour said the ultimate goal is for the foundation to provide help for those seeking to get a foot in the door with other professional sports and collegiate athletics, but for now the focus is on professional baseball, where Kapler has already made an impact. Nakken quickly became an influential member of the big league staff and continues to take on more responsibility, and when an assistant pitching coach position opened up in November, Kapler considered several women from other organizations for the job.

The Giants have added women to their big league support staff, and at the minor league level Samantha Unger will serve as an analyst for the Low-A San Jose Giants this season.

"Every time we hire a woman, a person of color, any member of a marginalized community, or a community that doesn't have the same advantages that white men have, that opens the door for another hire," Kapler said. 

Kapler and St. Amour have been talking about ways they could help for a long time and got serious about creating the foundation over the past year, with quarantine allowing for increased conversations about what they could do. They don't yet have a set number in mind for how many grants will be initially funded, but they will be offered on a rolling basis, and for other applicants, help may come in other forms. 

St. Amour used the examples of being a groundskeeper or head trainer. Part of reaching that goal is simply knowing the path, and that's where Kapler and his connections -- the Giants have already pledged their support -- can come in. St. Amour said the application process was kept purposely broad, because they wanted to encourage applicants "to think creatively about their dreams and aspirations."

"One of the things we're very confident in is that there are a lot of people that need resources," St. Amour said. "There are a lot of ways that we can help and we can tackle this problem. We have a lot of people on the other side that are interested in supporting this and interested in supporting it in various ways, and the plan is to dive right in.

"It's a big challenge and part of the reason it's a big challenge is because this is a big problem. It's not a problem that has one cause and has just one solution, but I think we're aware of those challenges in part because we've been talking to so many people with as many backgrounds as we can find and as many lived experiences as we can find, and we're going to continue those conversations."

Getting someone's foot in the door is only the first step. The hard part is climbing the ladder, as Ng's considerable wait proved. In addition to working through the foundation, Kapler said he's trying to identify ways in which the Giants and others can improve internally. He noted that organizations still often identify future coaches and executives in a very traditional way. 

"I think what we need to do is put more emphasis on identifying Black players and native Spanish-speaking players as future coaches and employees of the organization," he said.

"This is a step we can take right away, look for native Spanish speakers, Black people, other players of color, and identify ways that we can get them to our coaching or player development systems. But then also ask them questions about what sorts of things they want to do in sports that aren't related to being a player and maybe aren't related to being a coach. What other visions do they have?"

RELATED: Giants allowed to have fans at spring training home games

That will involve a lot more listening, and Kapler is ready. The Giants open camp next week and that is and always will be Kapler's day-to-day focus, but he's excited to be involved as Pipeline for Change gets off the ground -- there were already multiple applications for grants this week -- and said it will "be one of my bigger priorities away from baseball."

"As much as possible I'll be involved and invested in finding the right people and hopefully getting to know many of them," he said, "And maybe work with some of them."

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