After appearing to reignite Donald Trump’s contempt for athlete protests, San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler responded to the President on Tuesday, defending his decision to take a knee during the national anthem as a ‘patriotic’ act.
‘My response is I don’t see it as disrespect at all,’ Kapler told reporters Tuesday after Trump threatened to stop watching any game in which an athlete kneels in protest during the anthem.
Kapler and the Giants continued to protest before Tuesday’s exhibition in San Francisco, and they were joined in Cincinnati by several members of the Reds before their exhibition against the Detroit Tigers.
‘I see nothing more American than standing up for what you believe in,’ Kapler continued, as quoted by USA Today. ‘I see nothing more patriotic than peaceful protests when things are frustrating and upsetting.
‘And finally, there’s nobody that should make us stop doing the right thing. It doesn’t matter what leader says that they’re not going to be following a game. What matters the most is that we’re unwavering in trying to do what’s right.
‘What guides our decision is standing up for people who need us to stand up for them.’
The protests began in 2016 with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the anthem to raise awareness about inequality and racist police brutality.
Since September of 2017, when Trump first seized upon the issue at a rally in Alabama, the President has repeatedly voiced his objection to athletes kneeling in protest. Over that time he has mentioned the word ‘anthem’ in no fewer than 30 tweets.
Trump’s latest offering came early Tuesday morning after Kapler became the first MLB manager to kneel alongside his players.
‘Looking forward to live sports,’ Trump tweeted, ‘but any time I witness a player kneeling during the National Anthem, a sign of great disrespect for our Country and our Flag, the game is over for me.’
Giants outfielders Jaylin Davis and Mike Yastrzemski both issued statements after protesting on Monday, saying they were not disrespecting the military, but hoping to raise awareness about injustice.
‘The decision I made to take a knee last night has nothing to do with how I feel about the flag or the people that are serving and have served our country (such as both of my grandfathers),’ Davis said. ‘I am truly grateful for the sacrifices that each and every one of you have made for our country. On the other hand, I vowed to use my platform to speak up for what I believe in and I plan on doing that.’
Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl’s grandson, responded to the controversy on social media: ‘By kneeling last night, I wanted to hold myself, and hopefully others, accountable that something needs to change and I am willing to be part of the change because we all deserve the freedom that our veterans and active members have sacrificed their lives for.’
The protests provoked many critics, including conservative sports podcast host Gerry Callahan, who wrote: ‘I don’t know how many games in this MLB season but I hope the Giants lose them all.’
Meanwhile several fans of the Reds — the oldest team in professional baseball — vowed to stop rooting for the club after star first baseman Joey Votto and several teammates took a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner on Tuesday. Amir Garrett, Phillip Ervin and Alex Blandino also took a knee.
‘After 52 years as a loyal Reds fan, no more,’ wrote on Twitter user.
‘Canadian kneeling for a foreign national anthem,’ wrote another fan, referring to Votto, a native of Toronto. ‘This marine is done.
‘Tell that $26M subject of the Queen to go home since it’s so bad here,’ the person continued, accurately stating Votto’s 2020 salary, while apparently ignoring the fact that Canada adopted its own constitution and became a sovereign nation in 1982. (Queen Elizabeth II is technically the country’s monarch, but the position is strictly ceremonial)
Nancy Daly, a former Cincinnati Enquirer editor, supported the protest: ‘They kneeled with support from standing team members. Great Photo.’
Reds manager David Bell defended his players after the game.
‘The way I see it with our players because I know them so well, whether they were standing or kneeling, it was all out of respect,’ Bell told reporters. ‘It was out of respect for everything that is great and good about our country, the sacrifices and the hard work that allow us to be here today.’
MLB hasn’t always been at the forefront of the social justice movement in recent years, with leagues like the NBA and NFL usually taking center stage.
But in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis – and because of the quirks of a coronavirus-altered sports schedule – baseball is in the position of having the American sports world largely to itself for the next week.
The Milwaukee Brewers posted a picture on social media of nearly 20 players and coaches wearing shirts that read ‘Justice, Equality, Now.’ The Brewers wore the shirts during their intrasquad game.
It’s a marked change for baseball, which has dealt with a slow decline in the number of Black players for several decades. In recent seasons, the percentage of Black players has hovered around 8 percent. For a sport that proudly recognizes Jackie Robinson – who broke MLB’s color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers – the decline has long been a source of frustration.
Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who is Black, said that recent discussions with teammates have been encouraging.
‘There’s been a lot going on over the last few months, but with me and a few guys on the team, we’ve been holding Zoom calls about the issue at hand,’ Cain said earlier this month. ‘We’re all coming together, talking about it. I’m educating them, I’m educating myself on everything that’s going on. We all just want things to change, want things to get better.’
Miami Marlins pitcher Stephen Tarpley agreed that it’s something players are ‘actively talking about.’ He said within the Marlins there ‘are a lot of good discussions, and a lot of open minds and open hearts.’
He said the Marlins were still discussing ways to show on-the-field support.
‘I don’t know if we’re necessarily formulating anything huge, but little things are going to be what’s important to keep this thing rolling in the right direction,’ Tarpley said. ‘I don’t think anything big needs to be necessarily done. Discussion is the first step. If we have everybody stand on that line and understand what the message is, that’s another step.’
Kapler’s kneeling Monday was on the same field where former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell in 2017 became the first major leaguer to kneel for the anthem. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee in 2016 to protest racial inequality and police mistreatment of minorities.
Kaepernick and Maxwell were outliers during those days, when such actions were roundly criticized. But as baseball has shown during the past week, views have changed vastly in 2020.
Arizona Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo said they’ve had several discussions at the team level about the ways it wants to support social justice. They also said organizations were in talks with MLB about ways to show league-wide unity.
Hazen said any show of support shouldn’t be a one-day event.
‘Opening day will be another marker in that, but it’s going to continue to endure beyond that as well,’ Hazen said. ‘The changes, in terms of highlighting systemic racism, injustice, equality, those issues are going to be here forever.
‘It’s on all of us to do what we should be doing to stamp those things out.’