On September 1, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem of a preseason game. Before the previous two preseason games, he sat during the anthem. When asked why he sat (which later became why he took a knee), Kaepernick replied, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Thus, the legend of Kaepernick’s “principled” stance against police brutality was born. Of course, his wearing socks that pictured police as pigs was seen as, not as a sign of disrespect, but rather an expression of his opinion.
On June 16, 2017, Kaepernick tweeted, “A system that perpetually condones the killing of people, without consequence, doesn’t need to be revised, it needs to be dismantled!.” Got to hand it to Kaepernick. He was for defunding the police before it was “cool.”
In June 2020, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement that backtracked on the NFL’s policy to respect the anthem, leading Slate to trumpet “The NFL All but Admits That Colin Kaepernick Was Right All Along.”
It’s a tidy little liberal story except it just isn’t true. It has been written hundreds of times, but bears noting again, police brutality against people of color is down since 2014.
The deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of white police officers could give the impression that little has changed since the Black Lives Matter movement took hold in 2013 — that incidents of police violence are becoming more common. The truth appears to be the opposite. Since the 2014 wave of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the number of black people killed by the police has gone down, according to data from Mapping Police Violence.
Why then do professional athletes see the need to take a knee and disrespect the National Anthem? Initially, MLB was fairly immune to it. Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland A’s took a knee during the anthem in 2017, but the practice did not catch on.
Now, though, as baseball begins its 60-game short season, MLB players and managers are joining NFL brethren in dissing the flag. Several San Francisco Giants players and coaches, including new manager Gabe Kapler, took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before the team’s exhibition game against the Bay Area-rival Oakland A’s. According to multiple reporters, three other players and/or coaches joined the Giants’ manager. When asked why he did it, Kapler responded, “I wanted them to know I wasn’t pleased how our country has handled police brutality.”
Makes me wonder if Kapler has ever done a ride-along with an officer. I did, nearly a decade ago. Even then, I was awed by what law enforcement officers deal with daily.
MLB players may now, because of cultural pressure, be emboldened to take a stand or rather a knee. An Angels’ player, on the same night as the Giants did it, took a knee. St. Louis Cardinals ace pitcher Jack Flaherty said, “Something is in the works,” when asked if he planned to promote Black Lives Matter on the field.
So, what will it mean for the “National Pastime” if it disrespects the anthem? My hunch is that nothing good will come from it. The country is polarized. While nearly everyone supports respecting all lives and not showing racism against any group, the “Black Lives Matter” movement is now political. It has specific aims and a political agenda.
Additionally, the BLM movement has morphed into an anti-police movement. Mainstream Americans of all races don’t want to eliminate or defund the police. As a side note, they don’t really support redirecting funds or whatever Joe Biden has to say to the left-wing of his party to appease them.
Regular baseball fans are not going to be very excited to hear superstar players bash on police officers. Sure, there are some bad cops. No one denies that. We’ve moved way past that now, though. Taking a knee during the anthem will mean the MLB players don’t care about the police, this country, or her values. It will be a statement that the U.S. must have a fundamental and foundational change.
Can MLB afford to do that? In a pandemic-shortened season? I don’t know the financial picture of MLB well enough to provide an educated answer. My guess is no. But there’s a bigger question. Should MLB do that? Should they take a side in this cultural struggle? I say no, they should not. Baseball can remain that which unites us as Americans. Let’s hope that as the cry of “Play Ball” echoes throughout empty stadiums later this week, the event won’t be marred by disrespect.