It should come as no surprise to any of us that there has been heated debate over athletes kneeling during the National Anthem. Colin Kaepernick began this early last season to protest violence against blacks. He was later joined by many NFL players.
Now that Kaepernick has not been signed, others are taking the protest into the new season. Donald Trump has been very vocal about his beliefs that American citizens should boycott the NFL until they suspend or fire those who have taken a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner (yes, a hurricane did just destroy Puerto Rico, but I digress).
The president has been very vocal about his opposition over the past week, and has prompted more demonstrations. Oakland A’s Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to participate in this protest.
Baseball has been late to the party on this, and Maxwell began to ask himself why. Many believe that because, unlike the NFL or NBA, the MLB is not predominantly black, protest has not infiltrated their game. In fact, only 7.7 percent of players in the MLB this year have been black. However, Maxwell, who is half-black, felt it important to take the step.
When he was no more than 10 years old, Maxwell played a tournament in Cullman, Alabama. This city clocks in at just over 14,000 citizens, and only 48 of them were black. After winning the tournament, a man in the stands stood up and threatened to hang Maxwell and his father. His father is a veteran of the United States military. Maxwell, himself, was born on a military base in Germany. Yet at just 10 years old, Maxwell became victim to the color of his skin.
Before the game on that Saturday afternoon, Maxwell gathered the team and leadership together. He wanted to make sure that, if he did this, he would do it the right way. He explained to his peers that he was going to take a knee, and he explained why. He told them that he would do it in a way that offered no disrespect to the country or the military, still covering his heart with his hat and staring at the flag to show his respect.
However, Maxwell also did something you wouldn’t expect. He told his teammates they didn’t have to agree with him. He told them that if they didn’t, it was their right. He encouraged them to be vocal, either way. For Maxwell, kneeling isn’t just a protest of cruelty towards blacks that exists in our country to this day; it’s an expression of free speech that he feels is being violated.
“This is beyond race,” Maxwell said. “This is about our president speaking out in a vulgar, negative way against people exercising their rights in a peaceful manner. It’s about mankind. To call people who are peacefully protesting ‘sons of bitches’? He feels like he’s untouchable. We’re not dogs. We’re not animals. We’re people. And people in this country need to understand that we are not going to sit around and let a man call us that, no matter how powerful he is.”
Immediately after the protest, the A’s were quick to issue a show of support.
“The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive. We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”
Major League Baseball also reacted quickly, issuing their own statement. “Major League Baseball has a longstanding tradition of honoring our nation prior to the start of our games. We also respect that each of our players is an individual with his own background, perspectives and opinions. We believe that our game will continue to bring our fans, their communities and our players together.”
Mark Canha, who placed his hand on Maxwell’s shoulder during the national anthem, weighed in with his support. “Bruce did a great job of saying, ‘Hey, you don’t have to agree with me, and I’m sorry for putting you guys under the microscope here in these last nine days, sorry for the extra attention if you didn’t want it.’ He did a really good job of thinking about all the dynamics that come with an action like this. I think that made the response a lot more positive, the fact he handled it so well.”
On Monday, the Players’ Association issued a powerful show of support. “The hope inherent in the non-violent protests we are seeing is of a collective coming together to address the divisive and culturally destructive challenges that exist…and we are now seeing on display at the highest levels.”
Maxwell will continue to kneel for as long as it takes for him to see a real change. Historically, baseball is a sport that has not been very inclusive to people of color. With that said, I would be surprised if others didn’t follow Maxwell’s example. This is a protest that has become bigger than sports. This is a fight for the soul of our country.
Rachel Schaefer is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.