Baseball Takes A Knee

Nationals kneel with black sash. Getty Images

At bi-coastal, pre-game ceremonies delayed for four months by COVID-19 shutdowns, Major League Baseball marked opening day with players and coaches all kneeling on the field and lifting a black banner in solidarity with protests against "the current state of systemic racism in our country." Thursday's coordinated actions from D.C. - the 2019 championship Nationals vs. New York Yankees - to L.A. - Dodgers vs. Giants - signaled a small, key change in America's pastime, which despite growing numbers of Latino players is still largely "a white man's sport." Countering that reality, the day saw multiple nods to the racial justice movement now convulsing the country: During batting practice in D.C., players wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts, the letters “BLM” were stenciled into the back of the mound, Nationals manager Dave Martinez pointedly called out “the issues in this country...We need changes for the better." Finally, the teams knelt in the hauntingly empty ballparks, each holding a black ribbon, as a recorded message from actor and activist Morgan Freeman boomed out a brief message that, "Equality and unity cannot be until there is empathy...Today we are one." 

Still, in a decidedly mixed-message moment, almost all the players then stood for the national anthem; in L.A., only the Dodgers' new black star Mookie Betts stayed on one knee as two white teammates stood by him. The messy blend of good will, tiny gestures and wishy-washy "interesting" approach was met with wildly ranging responses - here, here, here. Many burly older white guys ranted they and their friends will never watch another game, because "politics." One retort: "Baseball is supposed to be an escape from the realization I'm an asshole." Many others cheered the effort - "Human rights aren't politics" - and agreed with the overdue sentiment, "How about we don't 'just stick to sports'?" Feelings were also mixed after hardcore Nationals fan Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out a less-than-stellar opening pitch, sparking jokes on flattening the curve and social distancing (from the mound). "Dude doesn't want people catching anything," argued one fan. "Respect the consistency." But the prize for clarity of purpose went to the Tampa Bay Rays, who came to play. For Friday's opener, they'll do the BLM t-shirts, video, banner, kneel. They also announced $100,000 in grants to racial justice groups, they posted a social justice guide, they're playing Marvin Gaye's gritty anthem, and they greeted the day with, "Today is Opening Day, which means it's a great day to arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor."

 Dodgers' Mookie Betts and friends

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