In one of the first Major League Baseball games since sports shut down after the novel coronavirus outbreak, San Francisco Giants Manager Gabe Kapler and several players and staff took a knee during the national anthem, drawing a quick response from President Donald Trump.
“Looking forward to live sports,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, “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!”
The demonstration was the first by an MLB team since Bruce Maxwell took a knee in September 2017, when NFL players and other athletes followed the example set by Colin Kaepernick by taking a knee to protest police brutality and racial injustice. The demonstrations angered the president, who saw it as criticism of the flag and the military. Now, with sports competition returning a little less than two months after the shooting deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed blacks sparked protests across the country, Trump is taking the same stance that set off a national debate.
Athletes' demonstrations seem likely to be repeated as sports gear up again. The opener between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets Thursday night will carry a subliminal message, with Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the country's leading voices during the pandemic, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
Kapler, who is in his first season managing the Giants, is believed to be the first manager or head coach of any of the four major North American pro sports leagues to protest in such a way. He told players and staff his intention Monday and said he would support whatever decision each individual made.
"I wanted them to know that I wasn't pleased with the way our country has handled police brutality,'' Kapler told reporters after the game against the Oakland Athletics in Oracle Park. "I told them that I wanted to amplify their voices and I wanted to amplify the voice of the Black community, and marginalized communities as well.
"And so I told them 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.
"I wanted them to know they've got to make their own decisions. And we would respect and support those decisions. I wanted them to feel safe in speaking up. We've had these discussions the last several days and we will continue to have them."
Giants outfielders Jaylin Davis, Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater took a knee, as did first base coach Antoan Richardson. Shortstop Brandon Crawford stood behind Davis and Richardson with his hands on their shoulders. Last month, Davis wrote of the racial discrimination he has experienced, adding, "Unless we all find a way to openly talk and genuinely listen to each other about racism, we have no hope of rooting it out."
Maxwell, who has been playing for the Acereros de Monclova of the Mexican League the last two years since his protest, took a knee in a game a day after Trump, at a rally in the catcher's native state of Alabama, called on NFL owners to "fire" any "son of a b----" who didn't stand during the anthem. Maxwell continued to protest that season and was moved by the Giants' demonstration Monday night.
"There was a lot of joy in my heart honestly, there was a lot of relief,'' he told USA Today's Bob Nightengale, "and there was a lot of emotion. Just seeing the spreading of awareness, that people are seeing the injustice of humanity in our country, and for people now standing up to it, that was so joyous for me."
Maxwell continued, "If I was there, I would give Kapler a big hug, shake his hand, and tell him I'm honored to be next to him. That was a big step. For somebody in that position, to put his title aside, to make himself vulnerable in that situation and stand for what is right, is big for humanity.
"It's nothing to do with the flag, not the military, it's a message standing up for the right cause."
Giants starter Kevin Gausman told Nightengale that Kaplan had told players they were free to decide what to do.
“His biggest thing is whatever side you’re on, whether you decide to stand or kneel for whatever reason, that he was going to stand by us,” Gausman said. “I think that’s important right now.”