The Next Five

It’s incredible what can happen in the span of just five years.

On my last day playing for the New York Yankees, I had to pack up everything from my locker and put it all into these huge cardboard boxes. It felt like I was moving out of my dorm room after 20 years of living a dream. When the last box was taped up and ready to go, I just sat at my locker for a few minutes and looked around the clubhouse for the last time. That’s when it really hit me. I knew that I was stepping into the next chapter of my life.

The next morning, myself, Jaymee Messler and the rest of our small team huddled around a laptop in downtown Manhattan and pushed the “publish” button on a website called The Players’ Tribune. The idea was pretty simple. We wanted to give athletes a platform to open up and tell their stories in their own words. But honestly, at the time, we didn’t know how far we could take that idea. As someone who is private, I wasn’t sure how many athletes would really open up the way they do in the clubhouse, at dinner, or on roadtrips, when they’re just being themselves.

As someone who is private, I wasn’t sure how many athletes would really open up the way they do in the clubhouse, at dinner, or on roadtrips, when they’re just being themselves.

I’d been in enough conversations with athletes to know that they had amazing stories to tell. But I didn’t know how many would trust us. We all realized that if we didn’t earn that trust, then this platform wouldn’t have true meaning.

We hit the publish button, and in our first few months of existence, The Players’ Tribune put out two stories that really changed what we thought was possible. First, Blake Griffin wrote an insider’s account of what it was like to play for Donald Sterling’s Clippers. And second, Andrew McCutchen wrote an essay explaining why kids from lower-income families are being left behind by the high cost of youth baseball. These stories weren’t just bringing in readers, they were also sparking real conversations with leagues and teams. That was when we started to realize the power of our platform.

Over the next few years, our athlete contributors kept getting more raw and more honest in ways that truly surprised us.

One of the things that I’m most proud of is how far our contributors have pushed the boundaries of the conversation around mental health. Corey Hirsch wrote about the obsessive compulsive-disorder that almost led him to take his own life while in the NHL. Liz Cambage wrote about the battle with depression that derailed parts of her WNBA season. Mardy Fish wrote about the anxiety attack he suffered at the U.S. Open. And Kevin Love wrote about the panic attack he experienced in the middle of an NBA game, and shared this idea that I really love — that everyone is going through something.

Over two million people read Kevin’s essay — but what’s more incredible is that over 6,000 people emailed Kevin personally about his piece, and about what it meant to them.

We’ve also provided a trusted space for athletes to talk about personal traumas. Breanna Stewart bravely spoke out about the sexual abuse she had endured as a child. Lamar Odom opened up about the loss of his infant son and his years of drug addiction. And Patrick O’Sullivan told the world about the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his father.

We’ve been committed to bringing you stories that leave a mark on you. Not just something you’ll click on, but something you’ll remember. Whether that means Dion Waiters letting the NBA know how lucky it is that he’s home doing damn articles. Or Darius Miles figuring out what the hell happened to Darius Miles? (A lot.) Or Allen Iverson showing a side of himself that most people don’t see: Not A.I. Not the Answer. Just Allen.

José Bautista educated us on the merits of the bat flip.

Michael Vick made peace with his city, and gave us an honest look at life during and after prison.

Sue Bird wrote a love letter — to sports, to equal rights, and most of all to her partner, World Cup hero Megan Rapinoe.

And Kyle Korver penned an essay on racism in America that I think is going to resonate for a long time to come.

More than three million people read Kyle’s essay, which is pretty remarkable. But the whole reason that we created this platform wasn’t to chase clicks or to break news. It was to let athletes connect with the world in a real way, and maybe even create some positive change in it.

There was a moment last month that kind of brought everything full circle. A friend of mine sent me a video of Megan Rapinoe accepting the FIFA award for Women’s Player of the Year. Megan had been one of our first contributors, and now she was up there at the podium in front of the whole global football world. Megan did what she always does — she shined the light on the people who inspire her. She even thanked Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly for speaking out about the racism they’ve experienced in European football. Raheem and Kalidou are two of the biggest names in world soccer, and they chose to tell their personal stories with us at The Players’ Tribune. That was the moment when it really sunk in. We have created much more than just a platform. We have created a true global athlete community.

That will never stop being amazing to me.

And it’s with this global athlete community in mind that, over the past year, we’ve been looking for the right partner to help us expand internationally. Our vision has always been to give athletes the tools they need to tell their story in their own words, and bring fans closer to the games they love. After a lot of thought and discussion, we’ve found the right partner to allow us to do that in more countries around the world.

We have created much more than just a platform. We have created a true global athlete community.

Today, we’re announcing our new partnership with Minute Media.

What Minute Media gives The Players’ Tribune is the ability to reach a wider audience on a global scale. Minute Media will provide our athletes with one of the world’s fastest growing technology platforms, as well as large-scale distribution in Europe, Asia and South America.

Most things won’t change: my involvement as a founder, as an active member of the Board of Directors, and most important of all — this being a platform that is built on trust. We will continue to operate independently, powered by Minute Media’s technology and global scale. The Players’ Tribune’s trusted staff, many of whom have been with me on this journey since Day One, will continue to do what they do best — give athletes a place to feel comfortable enough to open up and be honest about the things that are most important to them.

Together, we want to continue to reimagine the world of sports and entertainment through the players’ points of view, in as many places as possible, in as many languages as possible, and exploring as many topics as possible. We want to keep surprising you. Maybe we’ll even discover the Knuckleheads of Brazil or Spain. If you have ideas for that, email us.

It really is incredible what can happen in five years.

When we started this company in the fall of 2014, I wasn’t a husband yet, or a father. I still hadn’t unpacked the boxes from my locker. I didn’t know for sure what the next chapter of my life was going to be like. So I have to thank every single athlete who has been a part of this ride for giving that second chapter so much purpose.

It really is incredible what can happen in five years.

But I really want to end this by tipping my cap to you, the reader. Thank you for hearing us out. I think we’ve proven that athletes have a lot to say, and have lived through experiences that you would never have imagined.

When we launched this company, we decided on the slogan, “The Voice of the Game.” But over these last five years, we’ve learned that our mission goes a lot deeper than that. This hasn’t been about one voice. It’s been a conversation. First in English, and then in Portuguese, Italian, Chinese … and in the case of Paul Pierce, in emojis.

We’re looking forward to continuing that conversation all over the world, by bringing the magic of The Players’ Tribune to many new markets.

My dream is that, five years from now, no matter where an athlete happens to be in the world … if they have a story they want to share, we’ll be there to listen.