A few seconds later, each member of the Nationals and Yankees stood for the national anthem. No player took a knee, ending speculation that players might choose to do so as the country’s racial reckoning continues. Instead, they demonstrated in other ways. Some wore “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts during pregame warmups, and many had the slogan affixed to a small patch on their game uniforms.
The demonstration to kneel with the black cloth, according to a report Thursday by the Athletic, is part of a leaguewide players initiative to hold a “moment of unity” before each Opening Day game and is being led by Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
Players on the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants took part in the same ceremony before their opener later Thursday night, with each holding on to the black cloth while kneeling. But some members of both teams remained on their knees as the national anthem was played. Mookie Betts was the lone Dodgers player to kneel, and a couple of teammates put their hands on his shoulders in support. San Francisco Giants Manager Gabe Kapler and several of his players also took a knee during the anthem.
The players were distanced in front of the dugouts during the ceremony, a precautionary measure as the league began its 60-game schedule amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
There were reminders of the pandemic everywhere Thursday night — missing was Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, who tested positive for the virus, while Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, threw out the ceremonial first pitch — but the baseball’s efforts to stand against racial injustice were also at the forefront.
Fauci threw out the first pitch on a mound that had “BLM” stenciled into the dirt. Players were also given the option this week to wear patches on their jerseys that read “Black Lives Matter” or “United For Change,” and MLB lifted cleat restrictions so they could put social justice messages on their spikes.
Protests against racial injustice and police brutality have permeated sports in the wake of Floyd’s death in May. Since then, players across professional sports have taken a knee during the anthem to protest, just as former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had before NFL games in 2016.
This week, Kapler and several of his players took a knee during the anthem before an exhibition game, which drew quick criticism from President Trump in a tweet. A Los Angeles Angels pitcher also knelt and raised his fist during the national anthem before an exhibition game Monday, and four Cincinnati Reds players also took a knee during the anthem before another game Tuesday.
That led some to wonder whether there would be demonstrations during the national anthem Thursday night. A day earlier, Major League Baseball — which in 2019 had just 68 African American players among the 882 players on Opening Day rosters, injured lists and restricted lists, according to USA Today — rolled out options for players to recognize the movement against racial injustice during the shortened season.
As teams opened summer camp in early July, some reportedly held meetings throughout the month to address social issues. The Nationals held a meeting Tuesday, with closer Sean Doolittle telling his teammates that he would kneel with them if they chose to do so.
But that moment never came before Thursday night’s game in Washington, and many players placed their hands over their hearts as D.C. Washington sang a precorded version of the national anthem. Doolittle later caught the first pitch by Fauci, and the season was soon underway.
“I noticed, it’s not just one or two guys, it’s both entire teams,” ESPN broadcaster Alex Rodriguez said of the ceremony during the game’s telecast. “It’s because baseball is a tight community and so many have suffered for so long and are still suffering.”
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