It’s no secret we’re living through a defining moment in America’s history. Fallout from George Floyd’s death—the straw that finally broke the proverbial camel’s back—has brought us to a long-overdue cultural turning point, forcing us to reevaluate how we address matters of race, justice and police brutality. As highly visible public figures, athletes are in a rare position of influence and luckily, the vast majority have used their platform for good, calling attention to the hardships are country is facing amid continued social unrest. With the sports spotlight all to itself, at least until basketball returns next week, baseball has an opportunity to shed light on these complex issues, offering us a chance to heal. Here are some of the ways MLB has made its voice heard as the league embarks on an unprecedented, spectator-less 60-game season.
Red Sox Unveil 250-Foot Black Lives Matter Billboard
As WEEI’s Rob Bradford noted earlier this week, the Red Sox devoted an enormous, 252-foot billboard to the Black Lives Matter cause. The sign, which stands 20 feet high and overlooks the Mass Pike, is especially significant considering the team’s complicated history with race.
The Red Sox were the last team in MLB to integrate a black player in 1959 and recently renamed the street surrounding Fenway Park in an effort to distance themselves from former owner Tom Yawkey, whose bigotry was one of the sport’s worst-kept secrets. Many Red Sox alums (Carl Crawford and David Price among them) have cited Boston as a hostile environment for black athletes while visiting players including Torii Hunter and Adam Jones have also encountered racism playing at Fenway. Even journalist Elle Duncan, now of ESPN, has expressed that the prejudice she experienced in Boston played a role in her decision to leave NESN at the end of her contract.
One billboard won’t make up for all the hurt Boston has caused its current and former athletes (Celtics legend and one of the NBA’s first African-American icons Bill Russell was estranged from the city for a time for this very reason), but this was still an important gesture by the Red Sox.
Yankees Don BLM Shirts at Batting Practice
Yankees manager Aaron Boone donned a “Black Lives Matter” shirt for his press conference ahead of Thursday’s opener in D.C. The same shirt was worn by players during batting practice.
“We wanted to do something united,” said slugger Aaron Judge, who is biracial. “There’s a lot of injustice in this world and a lot of bad things going on. So we just wanted to show that we’re aware of it and start the conversation.” Judge also acknowledged former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell, who spurred controversy when he began kneeling for the national anthem in 2017, in his post-game comments.
Players (and a Manager) Kneel for the National Anthem
Rather than reach a group consensus like the Yankees and Nationals, who both opted to kneel as a team before Thursday’s anthem, the Giants and Dodgers left that decision up to individual players. Mookie Betts was the lone Dodger to kneel (Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger both placed a hand on his shoulder in support of their teammate) while several Giants followed suit including Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Mike Yastrzemski and manager Gabe Kapler, who had previously taken a knee during San Francisco’s “summer camp” games.
Dodgers and Nationals Feature Black Lives Matter Stencils
As promised earlier this week, each home team displayed BLM stencils on their respective mounds. Look for that trend to continue as more teams take the field Friday.
Rays Tweet Support for Breonna Taylor
Teams tend to veer away from politics and other polarizing topics on their social media accounts, but the Rays made an exception Friday, taking a hard stance against the police officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s wrongful death in Louisville earlier this year. Though unusually pointed for a team handle, Tampa Bay sent a powerful message by refusing to stick to sports. LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers has also voiced a strong opinion on this subject, opening Thursday’s post-scrimmage press conference in Orlando by emphatically calling for the arrest of all three officers involved in Taylor’s death.