The San Francisco Giants are among those teams taking a knee for social justice and racial equality.
In the two exhibition games the San Francisco Giants have played this week, several Giants players and members of the coaching staff, including manager Gabe Kapler, chose to protest police brutality and racial inequity by taking a knee during the national anthem. Despite the complaints of those in positions of power, their peaceful protest showing solidarity with the Black community puts them on the right side of history.
When these players decided to take a knee, among them Mike Yastrzemski, Jaylin Davis, Austin Slater, and Pablo Sandoval, one could easily predict what the reaction would be from some corners. There would be talks of “disrespecting the flag,” or assertions that the players and coaches who took a knee hate the United States.
These reactions were predictable because we have seen them all before. We saw them after two San Jose State University runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists to protest social injustice during the 1968 Olympics. We saw them after Colin Kaepernick took a knee back in 2016 to protest police brutality, setting off a wave among other NFL players who joined him in his protest. We saw them after Bruce Maxwell took a knee back in 2017 as a member of the Oakland A’s, the lone MLB player to do so until members of the Giants did the same this week.
So why should we be surprised that the same people who co-opted a discussion that was about police brutality and systemic racism in order to turn it into a discussion over honoring the flag and respecting the country are trying to do it again?
Far too often in our public discourse, we seem to talk past one another. Reasonable people can come down on different positions as to whether they would stand or kneel for the national anthem. For some, the playing of the national anthem at sporting events is a time to honor our military. For others, it is an opportunity to use a platform ill-afforded to others in order to protest injustice. Why do those two things need to stand in opposition to one another?
Brandon Crawford found a way to balance both interpretations by standing for the anthem while putting a hand on the shoulder of outfielder Jaylin Davis and assistant coach Antoan Richardson, both black. The move showed solidarity while still honoring members of his family who were in the military.
No matter how many times one needs to remind others that to kneel during the anthem is not to be anti-America, there will still be the small-minded who choose to suggest otherwise. Perhaps they simply do not want to have the conversation that the players and coaches on the Giants want to continue. Maybe they do not care about racial injustice or somehow they feel that it is an issue that does not breach their circumference of self-interest.
But to feel that the issues of police brutality and systemic racism do not affect us in one way or another, just because of the color of our skin or because of our zip code, is to completely ignore the issue at hand. As President Kennedy said in 1963 in an address to the nation on civil rights, “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and as clear as the American constitution.”
While legislation in our halls of Congress and at the state and local level is essential in bringing about true equality in our country, we cannot legislate away indifference. While headlines about police brutality and racial injustice may wills lowly fall by the wayside as the news cycle chugs on, if the protests taken by the players and coaches on the Giants break through all of the noise and spin to reach enough people and remind them that these issues are still affecting the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans, then they are successful.
As the late, great civil rights icon John Lewis said in 2019, speaking about NFL protests, “Sometimes you have to use the most simple means of engaging in peaceful, nonviolent protest.” Lewis knew he was on the right side of history when he was spit on at lunch counters and beaten as a Freedom Rider.
Players and coaches on the Giants are following Lewis’s example by causing “good trouble” to bring about change. While they may be subjected to character attacks and have their protest co-opted to fit the political objectives of others, they can stand assured that history will remember their efforts fondly.
As the poet, Dante wrote, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”