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'Inspired' by Bucks, Brewers lead some MLB teams in taking a stand against racial injustice

·MLB columnist
·7 min read
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They wore the T-shirts, the ones that said “Justice Equality Now,” the white players, Latin players and Black players did. They talked when asked about justice and equality and when now might be, as that day was being pushed over the horizon, to some other day, and as those issues were being pushed to the next person, to the next generation, to some other Now.

They didn’t play baseball in Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Forty miles from where, three days before, a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, multiple times in the back, they didn’t play baseball.

And they hoped it helped. Somehow, in some way, against a tide of injustice and inequality and terrible truths, that it might help.

Following the lead of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, and then the entire NBA, along with the WNBA, and following their own hearts and consciences, the Milwaukee Brewers, who’d worn those T-shirts for weeks, refused to play. Afterward, three players and their manager, all of them white, addressed the decision, which undoubtedly influenced similar choices in San Diego and San Francisco, where games were also postponed.

What comes of that, what comes of a small segment of men in a largely white game standing with the Black community and against the worst of us, cannot be scored precisely. Surely it will count for more than if they hadn’t acted. Surely it will count toward an accumulation of small personal gestures and large societal shifts so that one day, if we ever get to that horizon, it might count as Now.

“We made the decision today that the most impactful thing we could do was not play our baseball game,” said outfielder Ryan Braun, a Brewer for 14 years. “To not distract from what’s going on in the country. We felt like baseball was insignificant relative to the issues that we all continue to see and that we are disturbed by.

“We saw what the Bucks decided to do. I think frankly that that inspired us. I think it motivated us. I think that from the beginning of the season we’ve worn T-shirts that say, ‘Justice Equality Now.’ We’ve made statements. But at some point actions speak louder than words.”

MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 26: A member of the Cincinnati Reds walks off the field as the words "Justice Equality Now" are displayed on the digital marquee in left field at Miller Park after a Major League Baseball game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds was postponed on August 26, 2020 as a response by the players of the Milwaukee Brewers to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police on August 19, 2020 .(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Signs at Miller Park in Milwaukee read "Justice Equality Now" as the Brewers and Reds decided not to play, joining the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks in protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The latest — Jacob Blake, another Black man in another video, another opportunity to ask who we are and what we’re doing to each other — had arrived nearby. On their streets. Among their people. They could see it from where they stood, if they cared to look.

Brewers team leaders, Braun among them, spoke to Cincinnati Reds players. They told them what they were feeling, that they were a player vote away from refusing to play. Reds players — former Brewers Mike Moustakas and Wade Miley included — said they would join. The Brewers voted unanimously to join the Bucks, to join those horrified by how so much of the world conducts itself in the matters of racial injustice and systemic oppression, in an act of protest. Maybe not enough would even notice. And maybe one more person would ask why — why the Bucks weren’t on TV, why the Brewers weren’t playing — and that might lead to one more conversation, one more revelation, one more inch toward Now.

“First of all, what the Bucks did, what the NBA players have done, they’ve certainly been leaders in this area,” said Craig Counsell, manager of the Brewers. “But our players did a courageous thing in Major League Baseball. They went first. I’m proud of them for that. … They chose to act. I think what they were saying is, if not now, when are we going to act? We’ve worn T-shirts. We’ve had conversations. This was a chance for some action. They decided to take it and I’m proud of them for it.”

In San Diego, the Seattle Mariners chose not to play. Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward sat out of a game in Detroit, as did Dexter Fowler in St. Louis. Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Kemp declined to play in Arizona. Dominic Smith took a knee during the national anthem in New York and, afterward, in a news conference, wept as he said, “Being a Black man in America is not easy.” In San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts arrived at the ballpark and told his new teammates he would not play.

“In my shoes,” Betts said, “I couldn’t play.”

They told him then they would not play either. Asked if the Dodgers intended to play Thursday, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw said, “If Mookie plans on playing, I think we’re going to play.”

Dave Roberts, one of two Black managers and six managers of color in the game, said he too would have sat out in protest, along with first-base coach George Lombard, who is Black.

“It’s not a political issue,” Roberts said. “I understand the election is coming up. But, this is a human being issue. We all need to be treated the same way. A Black man being shot seven times in the back, we need to be better. That just can’t happen.

“I think the thing is, for Black athletes right now to make a stand and choose not to play tonight is one thing. But Black people have been fighting this fight for centuries. And for the white brothers to come in and support the Black men in this game is much more powerful.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 23:  Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers kneels during the national anthem as teammates Cody Bellinger #35 and Max Muncy #13 place their hands on his should in support prior to the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, July 23, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts knelt during the national anthem on opening day in late July. (Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Betts nodded along. In the course of hundreds of years of the same, they wouldn’t play a single baseball game. So little has changed. He’s only had to look around in any baseball clubhouse he’s ever been in, looked upon his coaching staff, looked into the front office. He’s only had to grow up in America, count the inequities, count the gunshots, count those who’ve been carried away and count the days they all stood back up and started over.

“Because it’s going to take all of us to make change,” he said. “Black people have been fighting this fight for centuries. We haven’t gotten anywhere. Just having the white players, people in general, to help push it, I think change can be made. It’s going to take all of us. Not just one group of people.

“I’ll always remember this day and I’ll always remember this team having my back.”

Wednesday, what the Bucks and then the Brewers did, what that became for just a few hours, what it looked like for baseball, might not be the Now. In fact it surely is not. Yesterday’s horizon, the challenge of it and the promise of it, is exactly where we left it. A few players cared to stand and look, however, to venture beyond the message on a T-shirt. To become a part of it.

There were three dark stadiums Wednesday night that wouldn’t otherwise have been. Maybe that’s nothing. Maybe it’s an inch or two. Maybe it starts the next conversation that leads to something better. A single bit of kindness. Of compassion. Who are we? What are we doing to each other?

“I think it’s a huge step today,” Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich said. “I’ve learned a lot, honestly, in these last few months, speaking to teammates, friends, people that have lived these events. I just can’t relate to them on the same level. I haven’t experienced the same things that they have. … We talked about at the beginning of summer camp what these shirts mean, the shirts we’ve been wearing throughout the year. There comes a time where you have to live it. You have to step up. You can’t just wear these shirts and think that’s all well and good, then when it comes time to act on it or make a stand or make a statement, you can’t just not do it.

“That’s what you saw here today. Us coming together collectively, as a group, making a stand, making a statement. For change. For making the world a better place. For equality. For doing the right thing.”

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