Despite the heavy snowfall on Dec. 10, thousands of spectators filled the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House to hear Derek Jeter, five-time World Series champion and member of MLB’s 3,000-hit club, participate in a moderated question and answer session. The former New York Yankees captain and shortstop retired at the end of this season after 20 years with the Yankees.
President Joan Hinde Stewart delivered the opening remarks, before directing the audience’s attention to a brief clip explaining Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation. The Foundation was established by Jeter in 1996, after finishing his first season with the Yankees. Since its creation, Turn 2 has donated more than $20 million to programs that help young children turn away from drugs and alcohol and turn to a healthy lifestyle. The Foundation’s name is personal to Jeter, who wore the number 2 jersey throughout his career with the Yankees.
For the duration of the evening, Jeter was joined on-stage by Fox News lead analyst and former MLB second baseman Harold Reynolds. From his first words on-stage, Jeter set a casual and familiar tone for the evening. The two bantered throughout the question-and-answer format.
Reynolds, a personal friend of Jeter, posed questions that spanned Jeter’s professional and private life, beginning with his upbringing. Jeter related that he has always been close with his parents and younger sister, who is now president of Turn 2, and attributed their continuous support with much of his success. “My parents are extremely honest,” he said, “which I think is really important.” His parents were also firm, however.
Jeter’s father, Sanderson Charles Jeter, served in the military before returning to graduate school for his Ph.D., and as such “was big on rules and regulations.” In fact, “I signed my first contract when I was in elementary school,” Jeter commented, serving as the inspiration for his New York Times bestselling book The Contract. “He sat [me and my sister] down before the start of each school year and set down things he wanted us to do,” Jeter explained. The conditions covered topics like curfew, grades, respect and commitment, in return for which Jeter and his sister could continue to play sports.
In his youth, Sanderson played baseball as a shortstop, serving as Jeter’s role model. “To this day he truly believes that he’s a better shortstop than me,” Jeter laughingly commented. Remarking on his own childhood, Jeter stated that “this [younger] generation is a lot different than my generation, nowadays everyone’s inside pushing buttons. We used to go outside and play all different sports.”
Reynolds asked when Jeter knew that baseball was “his sport,” to which Jeter responded: “I always thought I could be good at it and my parents always supported that dream, which is really important. Teachers and others said I needed a ‘real goal,’ but my parents always told me to set my goals high and to work hard for them. I wouldn’t be here without the support of my entire family.”
Both Jeter’s mother and father instilled in their children a respect for education: “I had to get pretty much straight A’s if I wanted to play [baseball]. I have a competitive problem, I want to be the best at everything I do, including school, and I’m willing to work hard to get it. [...] I understand how important education is and how essential it is in our [Turn 2’s] leadership program.”
It was out of this commitment that Jeter decided to establish the Turn 2 Foundation with the help of his father, a substance-abuse counselor. Substance abuse “affects everyone of every age,” Jeter stated, highlighting the important work that the Foundation is doing. In reference to Jeter’s Leaders, recipients of academic scholarships, Jeter proudly announced, “we’ve had over 165 leaders go through the program in the last nine years and 100 percent of them have graduated [high school] and gone to college.”
The Foundation’s programs focus on social change by advocating accountability, responsibility and scholastic success through setting high goals and creating action plans. Perhaps the most important thing the Foundation emphasizes to its participants is that “their voices are very important and need to be heard. And we show them they can use the platform that we’ve provided them to enact change in their communities,” Jeter stated.
In relation to finding one’s voice and speaking out for change, Jeter commented on the recent cases of police brutality and use of lethal force: “We want to be heard, but we don’t want there to be more arrests or violence. You need to stand up and you need to speak out for what you believe in, if you are committed to making a difference.”
Apart from the Turn 2 Foundation, Jeter partnered with Hamilton alumnus Thomas Tull ’92, founder of Legendary Pictures, to begin an online platform for professional athletes. The Player’s Tribune, which will officially go live in February, is an “unfiltered, unedited and unbiased” space where players can share their entire stories. “This is something that doesn’t exist,” stated Jeter, and will allow athletes to represent themselves, rather than giving the media the power to represent them in a one-sided, or blatantly inaccurate, manner.
Jeter then went on to list several misrepresentations of himself the media has produced over the past two decades, including the claim that he gained upwards of 50 pounds after an injury or that he was getting married. Although admitting that “the media helped form my identity and has been there with me along the way,” Jeter wanted to provide a space where “players are their own editors.”
Empowering athletes to take control of their own brand, Jeter also urged audience members to step away from technology and “have an experience you can talk about instead of just sending it to someone.” He continued by saying, “I just think everything is so impersonal nowadays. Enjoy moments. Experience moments, instead of trying to capture it on your phone to share with those who aren’t there.”
Reynolds concluded the evening by asking Jeter about his plans for retirement, specifically whether or not he planned to stay involved with the MLB. “Everyone has a dream,” Jeter began, “and mine was to be the shortstop for the Yankees and I lived it.” Although people often ask if he would want to be a manager or a coach, Jeter dismissed this but said, “My next dream ultimately would be to be part of an ownership and get to call the shots.”
Jeter ended by confessing another dream of his: “I’ve always wanted a son or daughter so I could coach their baseball or softball team. I would take all the worst kids onto my team and make sure they have fun.” He added, “I was always on the worst team” but he remembers one year when his father coached little league and it was “fun and inclusive” like it’s supposed to be.