A's slugger Mark Canha looks back on his role in teammate's 2017 anthem protest

Oakland Athletics slugger Mark Canha joins Yahoo Sports' Hannah Keyser to discuss whether MLB has changed since 2017 when his teammate Bruce Maxwell became the first and only player to kneel during the national anthem.

Video Transcript

HANNAH KEYSER: I'm Hannah Keyser with Yahoo Sports. We're here with Mark Canha from the Oakland A's. And I wanted to get your perspective on the protests that we've seen the past few weeks following George Floyd's killing, but specifically I wanted to talk to you about the sort of really unprecedented, and personally heartwarming, number of athletes from spoken up about racial injustice and police brutality.

So you were teammates with Ruth Maxwell in 2017 when he was the only major league baseball player to kneel during the national anthem. What was the conversation around that like in the clubhouse?

MARK CANHA: It was later in the season. I don't remember the political events that were happening in the context at the time exactly. But there was stuff going on. I think it was right after this season where Colin Kaepernick was doing his thing. And Bruce just stood up in front of the team and said, hey, guys. I feel a certain way about the systematic injustice that happens in our country, and specifically with what's going on with the police and in the black communities. And I'm going to kneel for the national anthem. And he's like, if anyone wants to join me that's fine. But if you don't, that's fine, too. And it was like a very kind of open, mature thing that he just explained his reasoning for doing it and that he was going to do it to kind of just give us all a heads up.

HANNAH KEYSER: You didn't kneel, but you did appear to lend your support. You put a hand on his shoulder. There's a photo that's-- almost every photo of that kneeling, you're in it. And your name-- tell me a little bit about the decision to sort of stand there with him. Was that premeditated? How was it received, and were you concerned about backlash?

MARK CANHA: I kind of felt the same way as Bruce. But I give credit to Bruce in having the courage to do it. I didn't-- there's a lot of reasons I didn't kneel. Sometimes I wish that I had knelt. Sometimes I'm unsure if-- I don't think I would kneel this year.

So I went up to Bruce after he announced that to the team and I just said, hey, I'm not sure about kneeling. But I think I really want to support you, and I don't want to put my hand on your shoulder while you do it. And he was he was cool with that and appreciative. And he said thank you, and I appreciate the support.

It was just-- it was kind of like there was just something-- every part of me was telling me that I need to be connected to this, and I need to show my support and that it was important.

HANNAH KEYSER: And what can organizations or the leagues, teams, do at an institutional level, do you think, to make players want to speak out and want to demonstrate around issues of inequality, and police brutality, and feel more comfortable? Because it still feels like maybe that would be a little bit scary for some guys to do.

MARK CANHA: I'd like to see people come-- like, owners, ownership and stuff come out and address it directly, the kneeling thing, that is, and just say how they feel about it. I mean, I think it's a lot of-- Major League Baseball and specific teams have come out and voiced their support for systematic injustice which is huge. That's awesome. But I think as long as nobody addresses the kneeling specifically, there's going to be a question mark in players' heads of whether or not they're going to be scrutinized, or blacklisted, or blackballed, or whatever you want to say by their teams.

HANNAH KEYSER: Is there a way that the culture of baseball clubhouses can change to be more inclusive?

MARK CANHA: When you talk about that, I think you have to talk about youth baseball and development of players. And just-- I think about this a lot now, especially today in our climate right now, how much like privilege I had when I was a kid. And how that enabled me to do certain things, have opportunities like play in club baseball teams, like travel baseball teams that got me exposure, that got college coaches and college scouts to see me and pro scouts to see me.

When I think about my career, I just think about all the time, what if I didn't have those opportunities? Would I have ever been seen by a college coach? Would I have gotten into a great school? I wouldn't have gotten into Berkeley if it hadn't been for baseball. So I wouldn't even-- there's a lot of ways that that benefited me. Not just in my now profession, but it also got me going towards a degree at Cal which is extremely valuable.

So in more ways than one just being able to get exposure like that, and my parents were able to pay for me to travel across the country to play baseball, was an opportunity that someone in a different economic, socioeconomic background might not have had.

HANNAH KEYSER: How would you personally feel a teammate or opponent knelt during the national anthem this year? Like if it became more widespread in baseball, would that be a good thing?

MARK CANHA: Absolutely. I'd welcome it. This is a constitutional right we're talking about. We're talking about free speech, freedom to protest-- this is absolutely something that cannot be discouraged or condemned. It's your constitutional right. And you have every right to do so. I think we'll look back at Bruce Maxwell and say he got a lot of criticism for that and a lot of blowback on social media and such, and that was wrong.