Yankees great Bernie Williams goes to bat in Washington for art and music in public schools


USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale breaks down the MLB trade market before the deadline.

WASHINGTON – Kids who saw Bernie Williams play baseball in the Bronx might never have known he also played acoustic guitar, or how music shaped his life.

The strains of Williams’ guitar, from his corner locker, became part of the Yankees’ championship soundtrack.

“I couldn’t think about a world without music,’’ said the former center fielder with four World Series rings.

For a full decade, Williams has gone to Washington to secure funding for music and the arts in public schools, so that this generation “won’t be cheated out of’’ a basic educational necessity.

“It’s not a hard ask,’’ Williams said after meeting on Capitol Hill with over a dozen Congressional representatives. But to “have them allocate funds toward our objective, that has been the most challenging part.’’

Always up for a challenge, Williams has gone all in, eager to tell his story on The Hill; that he’s the beneficiary of a public education that weighed music and arts as equally as math and English.

“It’s one of the most important dates on my calendar now,’’ Williams said on Wednesday, after working the halls of Congress. “I feel in my heart that we’re making the world a better place.’’

Capitol project

In the wake of ‘No Child Left Behind’, Williams advocated for passage of the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015,’ with music and arts as part of a core curriculum.

Yet, with its federal funding, ESSA is heavily dependent on the direction and funding of states and local districts.

“Every time there’s budgetary cuts…the first thing they cut is the arts and music,’’ Williams said. With ESSA’s passage, “we actually made it part of the law that they have to be added.

“The fine print is to have the funds allocated toward that purpose.’’

So, Williams shows up at the doorstep of Representatives from states such as Tennessee, Wisconsin and Missouri as a living example of someone who achieved because of an exposure to the arts.

“I attribute a lot of my success to that experience…I’m an example of that,’’ said Williams, who graduated from a public school for performing arts in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “That’s why we need to be on their radar.’’

‘Part of my life’

For new Yankees teammates, Williams was a curiosity, quietly strumming his guitar in the hours before a game.

“It was part of my life,’’ said Williams, who played for no other reason than his own enjoyment.

These days, Williams tours the country performing his own compositions and playing with the likes of James Taylor, now a close friend – despite Taylor’s deep affection for the Red Sox.

During his playing days, teammates would often request Williams to play various styles of music.

“Once they realized it wasn’t as easy as it looked, they started developing an appreciation for it,’’ he said. “I’d go into the lounge and turn on MTV Hits and play through all the music, all the videos.’’

It’s that inclusive nature of music – as well as baseball – that Williams is betting on, regardless of which side of the aisle he’s pitching.

“It should not be a partisan agenda,’’ Williams said. “I can’t see a losing side of this, for either party.

“Whoever wants to take credit for it, the beneficiaries are going to be the kids.’’

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