A Black baseball player took a knee during the national anthem in San Diego this week and raised a fist against racism.
A white manager in San Francisco joined some of his players in taking a knee before games all week.
And whole teams of players all across baseball took batting practice before openers Thursday and Friday wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts - something white Canadian Joey Votto of the Reds did the first week of summer training camp after having written an op-ed for the Cincinnati Enquirer a month earlier about his own "awakening" and vowing that "no longer will I be silent."
This is something we've never seen in baseball, the sport former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones infamously and truthfully called "a white man's sport" with a century-old culture that makes it difficult and sometimes punitive for non-white players to speak out.
Like their Brewers opponents and other teams, Cubs players wore Black Lives Matter and United for Change patches on their uniforms for the opener Friday and before the game joined the Brewers in holding a black "unity" ribbon stretching down the third-base line and up the first-base line.
And while there's a certain skepticism anytime an anti-establishment protest gets sanctioned into an approved message by the establishment, it's as welcome a sight as the return of the actual games.
Because it's about time, and then some.
And if your first response to that is "stick to sports," then you can stick it in your ear.
"I wish I could stick to sports," said Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, a 10-year big-league veteran who decided that in the aftermath of police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd it was time to use his public platform to speak up.
"I have family. I'm going to have children one day, God willing," he added. "I am a child. I'm an older brother. I have grandparents. I've got cousins in the Marines, military, law enforcement. I'm standing up for them.
"When it comes to ‘stick to sports' I wish I could, but there are so many times when I don't have my uniform on that I'm treated like a Black man and not a baseball player."
Anyone who doesn't know what he means by that has been living under a rock for at least two months. And almost certainly isn't Black.
"We've been on record saying we don't want our players to stick to sports," said Cubs president Theo Epstein, who played a lead role in organizing a Black Lives Matter demonstration involving MLB team executives during last month's draft - and who vowed to re-examine his own hiring practices that have resulted in little front office diversity.
"We want them to be themselves, and we encourage them to be engaged citizens and we see them as people and citizens, not just as players," Epstein said. "‘Shut up and play' is not going to be the way it is around here. That's just the way it is. That's a fact."
And sports has always been about more than sports, a reflection of society and the real world as much as a diversion from them - from segregation and integration to labor union movements and the socio-political intent of the Olympics.
As he ran onto the field to start the season Friday, Heyward carried a Chicago flag to his position in right, similar to Sammy Sosa with the American flag after 9/11.
It is not only natural that in this national moment of simultaneous economic, social and health crises that the return of sports during a pandemic should inspire voices to rise against the pain. It is also the right, if often difficult, thing to do. And the right side of history.
"This is a major piece of history that will be looked back on forever," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "And the whole world is paying attention to it; all of the sports teams are paying attention to it. The divide in our country - we've never seen anything like it.
"There's people from all over that come to Wrigley Field to watch us play, to get away from the bulls**t - excuse my language," he added. "But we have a platform that the generations before us never had."
As Epstein echoed, "this is not a political issue; this is a human rights issue."
And if it's uncomfortable for many to talk about or listen to - that's part of the issue, too. And part of the point.
"I felt like it was time to no longer make an excuse that I'm playing baseball and I have a job, that I'm just going to watch these go by," Heyward said of choosing to speak out now - after years of more quietly using his platform for community outreach and support.
With more forced downtime, more focus on systemic racism and more media access than we've seen in our lifetimes, players across all sports might never have had a greater opportunity to speak out and take action to try to make change.
"And in my community personally as a Black person and as a Black man, it's my duty to do certain things and take responsibility and be part of the progress," Heyward said.
One thing he did not feel the need to do was take a knee during the anthem, "because this is what progress looks like," he said of team-wide and league-wide support that reflects the multi-racial makeup of many of the groups of anti-racism protesters this summer.
"You have acknowledgment; you have unity; you have people of multiple races, people from different cultures, areas, different struggles standing together, acknowledging the Black struggle in this country," he said. "But I also support the ones who are [taking a knee] because I do understand that they're not kneeling for anything bad. They're kneeling for good. They're kneeling for people that have gone through the struggle."
Said Rizzo of team conversations this summer: "The one common thing was we're not making this about politics. We're making it about what's right, and we're standing up for what we believe is right, and let's end racism."
Cubs won't stick to sports, say historic moment too significant to be silent originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago