As the national anthem echoed through the Oakland Coliseum on Monday, Giants manager Gabe Kapler and several of his players including Jaylin Davis, Mike Yastrzemski, Austin Slater and Chadwick Tromp, took a knee during the anthem.
Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford stood between Davis, who is African American, and kneeling first base coach Antoan Richardson, who is African Bahamian, and touched a hand to their shoulders, showing support. Davis held a hand over his heart during the anthem. Richardson knelt on both knees and bowed his head, his eyes clenched.
While some may be tired of the display after the years of seeing NFL players take a knee in protest of police brutality, this was an unprecedented display on a baseball field.
Multiple players in uniform representing a range of backgrounds, silently protesting against systemic racism and disproportionate levels of police brutality against the Black community, is something we haven’t seen before on a MLB field.
Prior to Monday night’s gesture, only one major-league player had kneeled for the anthem and it happened on the same field. It’s been almost three years since former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell followed the example set by Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players and took a knee for the anthem. Maxwell’s silent protest resulted in death threats, bitterness and a feeling that baseball abandoned him.
But the searing images of George Floyd dying in Minneapolis as a police officer’s knee was pressed against his neck set off national protests that continue to have a wide-ranging impact.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler became the first manager/head coach major North American professional sports to kneel during the anthem.
He said it was a decision borne out of conversations that began over the past three days with players and coaches who connected one-on-one and in small groups. He came to the realization that as long as the option to protest was communicated in advance and came out of group discussions, and as long as those who knelt and those who stood both felt supported and respected, then it could be something that brought the team together rather than threatened to divide them.
Kapler explained to the media and his team his thought process on joining in on the protest.
“The first message was that our coaching staff and our organization would support any statement they wanted to make,” Kapler said. “If they kneeled for the anthem, we would support that. If they stood for the anthem, we would support that too. We wouldn’t pass judgment on them for making any statement or standing up for what they believe in or for expressing themselves.
“And the second message I wanted to share was what my plans were. I did that because I wanted them to know that I wasn’t pleased with the way our country has handled police brutality. I told them that I … wanted to amplify the voice of the Black community and marginalized communities as well. So I told them that I wanted to use my platform to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with the way we’ve handled racism in our country. I wanted to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with our clear systemic racism in our country. And I wanted them to know that they got to make their own decisions and we would respect and support those decisions.
“I wanted them to feel safe about speaking up. So we had these kinds of discussions for the last several days. And we’ll continue to have them.”
Kapler isn’t the only member of the Giants management who supports the decision to take a knee. President Farhan Zaidi supports both Kapler and the players decision.
“We’re proud of our players and staff for continuing to participate in the national conversation about racial injustice,” Zaidi said. “We support those who knelt to peacefully protest racial injustice and those who stood to express love of country. We do not see these as mutually exclusive sentiments and believe the freedom to express both is what our country is about. As an organization we reaffirm our denouncement of acts of discrimination and violence against members of the Black community and our pledge to work together with those who seek to end racial injustice in America.”
What might be even more significant than the backing of the front office, is the backing of Major League Baseball itself.
Members of the @SFGiants kneel during the National Anthem. #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/QbvAvCZiEs
— MLB (@MLB) July 21, 2020
The protest was unprecedented not just because it was the first time that multiple uniformed baseball personnel chose to kneel but because who participated.
Slater, a White outfielder from Stanford whose grandfather was once the mayor of Jacksonville, Fla., and Yastrzemski, a White outfielder from Vanderbilt whose grandfather, Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski, is one of the game’s all-time great players.
Slater explained his decision to take knee.
“I’ve been taking time to educate myself over the past month about social injustice towards people of color in this country. Simply put, things need to change. Every person, no matter their skin color, have the fundamental right to expect the same experiences and treatment free from prejudices in this country and around the world. I respect and am thankful to all that are serving and have served. I mean no disrespect or am I trying to belittle their sacrifice. When I reflected on my life and my experiences I was unaware of the privilege and safety that came with the color of my skin. I strongly believe change needs to happen and believe this is the proper way to demonstrate my beliefs on the subject.”
Crawford said he went back and forth with his personal decision before opting to stand because his wife’s brother served in the military.
“Standing for the flag and what it is supposed to represent is a big deal for them, so it is for me too,” Crawford said in a text message. “That does not at all mean that I don’t support the movement, or condone police brutality or inequality.”
Crawford still wanted to show support for his teammates and the message behind their decision, so he had a very real conversation with them.
“Antoan happened to be next to me also so I put my other hand on him for the same reasons. He thanked me for it afterward. The biggest thing we talked about as a team was that we would support each other and be there for each other. Whether or not we kneel, I think that’s what this is all about. Being there to support and love each other.”
Kapler declined to say whether he would continue to peacefully protest against racism and police brutality by kneeling for the anthem when the Giants play in their 60 regular season games.
He described the 60-game regular season as offering 60 chances “to make the same decision we made today — either stand or kneel or do something different.”
He also isn’t afraid of any divide in the locker room. In fact he expects the opposite to occur.
“Players spoke about their decisions and respecting the choices of others in the clubhouse,” he said, “which I believe united us prior to going out on the field together.”
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