WASHINGTON — As Major League Baseball’s season began with season openers Thursday and Friday, unity was a theme oft cited by players taking the field for the first time since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Every game featured similar yards of black ribbon almost literally binding players and coaches before the national anthem, some choosing to kneel, others standing, and still other teams opting for a collective gesture.
That’s the route the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals followed Thursday, when some 75 players and coaches knelt before the anthem, then rose for the recorded playing of it.
As the season goes on, messages of silent protest will begin to diverge, and Saturday night, when the Yankees and Nationals gathered for their second game, the anthem was played with little fanfare.
But the protest continued.
Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks both took a knee during the pre-recorded playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” pausing on the outfield grass to kneel, while a group of about eight Yankees out for the anthem stood. The Nationals, most of them emerging on the first base line for the anthem, stood.
As the anthem drew to a close, second baseman DJ LeMahieu walked between the pair, tapping them on their shoulders in a show of apparent support.
While the message behind athletes’ peaceful protests has slowly come into focus for segments of the public after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick begin kneeling during the anthem in 2016, the mass actions have given some players reason to explain the symbolism.
After Thursday’s opener, Stanton made his thoughts clear.
“For me, it’s for the racial injustice and Black lives in general,” he said. “And a lot of other things going on. We all have individual reasons to do so.
“I believe with everything we did beforehand, wearing the Black Lives Matter T-shirts, the patches and the unity ceremony before, that’s what was decided.”
In the days since, Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, like Stanton a former MVP, and a significant number of players and coaches around the league have knelt during the anthem. The Minnesota Twins, who pledged $25 million to fight racial injustice after Floyd was killed in the city they call home, were particularly active.
Ten players and coaches kneeled, with Rocco Baldelli joining San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler as managers kneeling. Baldelli was among the first baseball figures to strongly condemn Floyd’s killing before protests expanded nationally and globally.
“First of all I think the moment was beautiful in many ways,” Baldelli said after Friday’s opener against the Chicago White Sox. “It was something we were anticipating. We knew there were going to be a lot of MLB initiatives and team initiatives, and everyone was looking forward to it one way or another.
“But also it allowed people to express themselves in some meaningful ways. You spend a little time talking with people and you can see how much some of these moments really mean to them. They mean a lot to me and I was very happy to be a part of it.”
The ribbons have been put away and the Black Lives Matter stenciling on the back of mounds scrubbed away. But Hicks and Stanton showed Saturday that for some, the actions will continue.