Derek Jeter Talks ‘The Captain’ Documentary, Alex Rodriguez
Baseball’s All-Star break marks one of the quietest weeks of the U.S. sporting calendar. MLB has been off and the NBA is now in its off-season. Next week, NFL training camps will be open. So it’s an opportune time for ESPN to debut—and endlessly promote—a documentary about one of the most consequential sports icons of the last quarter century. The captain a seven-part series that debuts on the network following tonight’s Home Run Derby, covers the career of New York Yankees Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, a player who served as the face of his sport for two decades. He was a dynamic shortstop who, by dint of his status of leading man for a team based in the media capital of the word—and that won four World Series in his first five seasons—resonated in the broader culture. Since his retirement from New York Yankees almost eight years ago, baseball’s been desperately searching for Jeter’s successor.
As another documentary about a sports icon The Last Dance The Jeter Project will be releasing new episodes weekly, until August 11. Media can view the first five episodes. Like The Last DanceThe story is told through the eyes of the subject. It is much more than hours of eye rolling hagiography. Jeter grapples with his racial identity, a subject rarely discussed during his playing days, his fraught relationship with fellow superstar—and eventual Yankee teammate—Alex Rodriguez, and even some of this forays into the tabloid gossip pages. The day before the start of The Captain’sThese and other topics were discussed by Jeter in his debut with TIME.
(This interview has been edited to be more concise and clear.
TIME: The documentary has one revelation: Your dad and you competed against each other as a child while watching You Pay the Right Price. Was it the pricing games that were at the center of this discussion?
Jeter: We’d do all of it. Jeter: I remember going to the afternoon kindergarten after. And we’d sit down and we’d watch You Pay the Right PriceWe would have fun guessing the prices with my dad. [at the game]. It could also be child abuse, as I mentioned in the doctor.
It’s easy to understand now that I have three little girls. You have to teach them, life isn’t easy. You will not be granted anything.
That instilled a bit of competitiveness early on in your life.
No question. There was no doubt that we used to be competitive at all things. Checkers, tic-tac-toe. The first time I defeated him in singles basketball, I can still recall it. It’s this sense of accomplishment.
What is the story behind this documentary? Why is this documentary now?
When I received a call from the Hall of Fame asking me to prepare for it, that was when it happened. I said, ‘Well, you know, I wanted to film it.’ Because my girls have never seen me play before and I just wanted to have the footage for myself. It just became a bit more of a deeper conversation. We are at this point.
How did you feel after that event?
But I wasn’t sure it was possible. It was the first time I had ever stopped to think about my achievements in life. It was always, ‘What’s next?’ When you get that call to go the Hall of Fame, it’s really the first time I got a chance to sit down and just reflect on my career. So I thought, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it now.’ I sort of just dove right in.
These parallels are possible. The Last DanceMandalay Sports Media produced both films. Michael Jordan appears in the documentary. The success of Last DanceHelp it move forward, or make any changes?
I don’t really think so. Last DanceThe entire world was captivated by it. The show aired during a time when all sports were shut down. You didn’t need to be a sports fan to watch. Documentaries are being made by many people. Also, I enjoy learning about different professions and seeing their progress.
Your agent, Casey Close, and your media platform, The Players’ Tribune, were producers for the film. What were your roles in this process? What did you say about the final product?
There was a process. I wouldn’t say I have the last say. The only thing that I wanted to make sure of is that if I’m going to give my perspective, in any particular situation, anyone else that was involved in that situation, I wanted to hear from them, as well. Because I didn’t want it to be a one-sided documentary. Because I want it real.
This film focuses on your childhood growing up as a biracial person in Kalamazoo (Michigan). You were nicknamed the N-word when you were a child. What does that mean for you?
Real life. Regardless of how much success you may think you have, there’s always going to be ignorant people. It’s not just erased because you’ve had any level of success.
You were also constantly made to feel like you and all your loved ones were being watched. Was that how it affected you?
I have always been aware and constantly looked around. I remember speaking to my wife, when we first met, she said ‘You’re always looking around.’ It just makes you think back to when you’re a child and you’re looking to see who’s staring. As you achieve more success in your profession, others may also be searching for different reasons. It’s an awareness thing. You couldn’t get away from it.
In one of the episodes, sports journalist Wallace Matthews says to the camera: “Derek Jeter does not identify racially … He just seemed to be racially neutral. Derek Jeter was almost colorless, not only physically, but also in the way he spoke.” In the documentary, that comment seemed to bother you. Why?
It speaks for it self. You can’t have a comment where you’re speaking for me when you’ve never asked the question about how I identify. This was an unexpected surprise and I felt a genuine and sincere reaction.
Many athletes are involved in social causes today. This was not something you were known for. Did it have to do with the fact that you weren’t asked such questions? Did it have to do with the fact that you didn’t get asked these questions or because you wanted to focus on baseball and your job?
While I was playing, the main focus was more on the field. That’s what my job was to do. And look, let’s be candid, I think athletes nowadays are a lot more comfortable speaking out on their own. You have your own platform to express yourself. And you don’t necessarily have to be asked about it to give your opinion, which is good. When I was playing I wasn’t asked about it. But I think there’s all types of ways that you can speak up. I’ve had a foundation for 20-plus years that’s touched on social issues throughout my career, and still to this day. It was still being addressed.
You would have reacted if someone had asked you what you thought if Colin Kaepernick had started to kneel during the performance of the national song in 2016.
I would have said it’s not about kneeling for the anthem. He did so for a purpose. I don’t think it was anti-America. It was for something that he’s standing up for. And the same thing when I was down in Miami, with the team … peaceful protests. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with those. This draws attention and can make it difficult to have unpleasant conversations. And that’s the only way you’re going to have any change in the world, is to have those conversations. You must start.
Your relationship with Alex Rodriguez is another major theme in the documentary. Although you shared a close relationship as children, your relationship with Alex Rodriguez changed when he began to make unflattering remarks about you. EsquireThe magazine was published in 2000. The documentary features you talking about your abilities to keep people away. You say you’re not proud of it. You ask where did this ability originate?
I don’t know. It’s just how I think. I believe that you are surrounded by close friends. I’ve had that same close group for a long, long time. I’m a very, very loyal person. I don’t necessarily know if it’s a good thing, but it got me to where I am.
Alex claims that he is standing by his remarks in the film. He said they were “totally fair.” Did that bother you?
Alex has never had any issues. Zero. We’ve had conversations. It’s over. It’s over and done with. You’ve got to remember, this was a long, long time ago. Human beings change over time. Every day is a learning experience. Alex is my best friend.
Do you think Alex should be in the Hall of Fame
I don’t vote. I don’t vote so I think it’s, time will tell.
The 2011 New York City Address is also addressed. PostStory that you gave gift baskets to women for one night stands. That was a lie. What was your response to the story?
You can make up a lot of things, don’t you think? One story became a whole new world. People still talk about the story to this day. That’s why I was asked about it. It’s just, how do people even come up with it?
Do you think it is great to be able to discuss some of these things in a documentary such as this one?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s trying to clear the air. I didn’t go into it saying I want to clear the air on this issue or that issue. The discussion was limited to a few things that occurred over the last 20+ years. It was also a question. After I had said that I would do it, I decided to tell the truth. You can ask questions.
Turning to some stuff around baseball … Jeter Downs, the Boston Red Sox rookie named after you, hit his first career home run in Yankee Stadium today [Sunday, July 17]. You’ve wished him good luck on Twitter … “unless you are playing the Yankees.” Are you happy to see him hit a home run?
Which one won?
Yankees win, 13-2
It’s all good. Bravo!
Rob Manfred, the MLB commissioner has spoken out in favor of robo-umps being installed in Major League Baseball by 2024. Would you be interested?
They just have to get it right. You have so much technology in the world to help you get it correct, that I don’t see any reason why not.
Would you like to be the next commissioner of baseball?
Man, I just don’t like shift. This confuses the fans. Watching games, you see a hard hit ball to the right side or the left side, you think it’s a hit, but you see another infielder halfway in the outfield making a play, so I just think you’d have more action in the game if that was gone.
Before this season you left your job as CEO of the Miami Marlins, saying in a statement that “the vision for the future of the franchise is different than the one I signed up to lead.” What was different?
You’re going to have to wait to see the rest of the documentary.
These are the episodes that deal with it in the second and third seasons.
[Laughs] Maybe. You’ll have to tune in.
Greatness Wins is a brand new in sportswear. Wayne Gretzky is also involved. Misty Copeland is as well. What is the secret to this?
Chris Riccobono approached me. He started Untuckit. His idea was to create a brand of athletic apparel that focuses on performance, quality, consistency and sustainability. We had long conversations about this idea. Chris was clear that when you talk about greatness and achieving greatness, a lot people view it as a goal. It’s a mindset. That’s what the brand is based off of. You know, I think I’ve learned quite a bit throughout my career in terms of quality and fit and performance. And there’s things that you love. And there’s things that you may do a little bit differently.
Is there anything you want people to take away from this documentary?
My New York City experience was not by accident. No blueprint was available for success. New York is challenging, which I enjoy. It’s the best place in the world to play, the best organization with by far the best fans. That’s just how I handled it while I was there. It’s now that I look back at it from a different perspective. I will share how it felt then, as well as my current thoughts.
You’re pretty honest about how, in your dealings with the press, you tried to keep things simple and not create any controversies and distractions. Tom Brady recently talked about this, about how “90% of what I say is not what I’m thinking.” As you say, it was all be design. But the public never got to know the “real Derek.” Do you have any regrets about your approach?
No. This works. For 20 years, I lived in New York. It was a great career.
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