On Opening Day, a Rarity for M.L.B.: Support for Black Lives Matter


WASHINGTON — The 200-yard black cloth stretched along the foul lines, starting at one edge of the outfield, wrapping around home plate and extending to the other side of the diamond. It was held by coaches and players from both the Washington Nationals and the Yankees, all spaced out, as a message recorded by the actor Morgan Freeman played over the stadium speakers.

Then they all took a knee for 60 seconds of silence — an idea agreed upon by the Yankees in a team meeting the night before Thursday’s season opener and then shared with the Nationals. For the national anthem, both sides stood again.

Before the recorded message and the kneeling, a Black Lives Matter video produced by the Players Alliance — a new nonprofit comprising 150 current and former Black baseball players — and featuring several of baseball’s biggest stars was played on the stadium’s video board.

This was not the N.B.A., or the W.N.B.A. or the N.F.L., where players have been demonstrating before and during the national anthem for years. But what happened on opening night Thursday was notable for Major League Baseball, a league that has been slow to address social issues publicly, compared to many of their counterparts.

The demonstrations drew a rebuke on Friday morning from Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and President Trump’s personal lawyer, who tweeted: “All those ball players, including the Yankees, taking a knee during the National Anthem of the country that made them millionaires is hypocritical. Support for BLM, which is provoking attacks on our law enforcement and innocent people all over America, is disgraceful.”

Those comments, which incorrectly said the Yankees kneeled during the anthem and mischaracterized largely peaceful protests, were countered by Yankees President Randy Levine, who worked under Giuliani during his mayoralty.

“Rudy got it absolutely wrong,” Levine said in an interview. “The display of unity that was done last evening by our players and players across the league was beautiful, respectful and dignified. To me, it showed unity and the desire for a better world, social justice and enlightenment. I didn’t — and nobody should — take that as being disrespectful of anyone, including law enforcement.”

The idea for the cloth and the moment of unity at Nationals Park came from Andrew McCutchen, a veteran outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, and was organized by players without M.L.B.’s involvement, according to a statement. They came to M.L.B. to finalize the efforts, and similar cloths were sent to the 14 other stadiums that hosted games on Thursday and Friday.

“This moment is important for all M.L.B. players to unite and show support for one another as we begin the 2020 baseball season,” McCutchen said in a statement.

He added: “No matter where we are from we are all facing battles for social justice and equality, the concerns of keeping our families and communities safe during times of a global pandemic, and facing the same challenges with the return to baseball.”

In its own statement, M.L.B. said it had an “open and constructive dialogue” with the Players Alliance, individual players and the players’ union about how players could show their support for social justice causes as the league began play after a four-month delay.

During an exhibition game in Oakland, Calif., this week, Gabe Kapler of the San Francisco Giants became the first manager in M.L.B. to take a knee during the national anthem.



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