First MLB player to kneel during national anthem applauds Giants, Gabe Kapler for shining light on injustice

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First MLB player to kneel during national anthem applauds Giants, Gabe Kapler for shining light on injustice

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Bruce Maxwell, on a hike Monday evening in San Diego, looked at the Twitter notification shown by his agent, did a double-take, and broke into a slow, expansive grin.

Then, he tried not to cry.

“There was a lot of joy in my heart honestly, there was a lot of relief,’’ Maxwell told USA TODAY Sports, “and there was a lot of emotion.

“Just seeing the spreading of awareness, that people are seeing the injustice of humanity in our country, and for people now standing up to it, that was so joyous for me.’’

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, and several Giants players and staff, became the first members of a Major League Baseball team to kneel during the national anthem since Maxwell in September 2017.

“If I was there, I would give Kapler a big hug, shake his hand, and tell him I’m honored to be next to him,’’ Maxwell said. “That was a big step. For somebody in that position, to put his title aside, to make himself vulnerable in that situation and stand for what is right, is big for humanity.

“It’s nothing to do with the flag, not the military, it’s a message standing up for the right cause.’’

Kapler is not only the first Major League Baseball manager to kneel during the national anthem, but he also is believed to be the first head coach in any of the four major North American sports leagues to protest racial injustice in that manner.

Kapler, in his first year as Giants’ manager, had been outspoken on racial injustice and Black Lives Matter since George Floyd was killed in May. He had spoken to his players and Giants’ staff members for the past three days, even reaching out to other organizations, and Monday informed his players that he intended to kneel before the game. He told them he would support their decision to kneel or stand for the anthem.

“I wanted them to know that I wasn’t pleased with the way our country has handled police brutality,’’ Kapler said during his postgame press conference. “I told them that I wanted to amplify their voices and I wanted to amplify the voice of the Black community, and marginalized communities as well.

“And so I told them I wanted to use my platform to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with the way we’ve handled racism in our country. I wanted to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with our clear systemic racism in our country.

“I wanted them to know they’ve got to make their own decisions. And we would respect and support those decisions. I wanted them to feel safe in speaking up. We’ve had these discussions the last several days and we will continue to have them.’’

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Kapler wouldn’t reveal if he would continue to kneel, or whether there will be additional players kneeling in the future. The Giants’ players kneeling, ironically on the same field as Maxwell three years ago, were outfielders Jaylin Davis, Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater of the Giants, along with first base coach Antoan Richardson.

“Our coaching staff and our organization told them we would support any statement they wanted to make,’’ Kapler said. “If they kneel for the anthem, we would support that. If they stood for the anthem, we would support that, too. And we wouldn’t pass judgement on them for making any statement or standing up for what they believe in, or expressing themselves.’’

No Giants players were made available after the game due to time constraints of needing to leave the Coliseum one hour after the game, but Giants starter Kevin Gausman confirmed Kapler’s message in an interview during the game.

“He said it’s everybody’s option,” Gausman said. “His biggest thing is whatever side you’re on, whether you decide to stand or kneel for whatever reason, that he was going to stand by us. I think that’s important right now.”

The Giants certainly won’t be the only team protesting the racial injustices in this country. There will be other teams kneeling and displaying their beliefs with the season starting Thursday.

The San Diego Padres, led by rookie Taylor Trammell, are expected to stand for the national anthem but with their hands behind their back and not over their heart. Cleveland has been standing with their arms on each other’s shoulders for the past two exhibition games. Angels pitcher Keynan Middleton took a knee and raised his fist during the playing of the anthem before Los Angeles’ exhibition game Monday against San Diego.

Keynan Middleton kneeled and raised his fist during the national anthem prior to tonight’s game. pic.twitter.com/eHt7IdmNKA

— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) July 21, 2020

There will be silent protests across the land with the season-opening game Thursday night when the World Series champion Washington Nationals host the New York Yankees, with the game televised on ESPN for everyone to see.

“I don’t really know what to expect when the season starts,’’ Maxwell says. “I don’t expect anybody to knee if they don’t believe in their heart it’s the right thing to do. If two people do it, great. If 100 people do it even better.

“People have different feelings on it now.’’

Maxwell, who had been the only player to kneel until Monday, has spent the past two years playing for the Acereros de Monclova of the Mexican League. Their season was canceled earlier this month because of COVID-19, and he awaits to see if any team is willing to give him another chance, no longer on an island by himself.

“The reaction from the fans and the death threats to his family,’’ said Lonnie Murray, Maxwell’s agent, “was just too much to handle. He was just equipped for that.’’

Said Maxwell: “I didn’t have anybody to help me. I was by myself, dealing with threats every day.’’

Now, the cause is growing. Players are speaking out. White players, like three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, have been outspoken about Black Lives Matter. Major League Baseball even tweeted a 13-second video clip of the Giants kneeling with the hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.

In this together. pic.twitter.com/pNizLNdHOG

— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 16, 2020

“I think it will be amazing for the cause,’’ Maxwell said. “It’s the message. There’s growing unity in our sport that we’re a community, and we fight for everybody.’’

And just in case anyone wondered how the Giants’ management felt, Farhan Zaidi, president of baseball operations, sent out a statement after the game.

“We’re proud of our players and staff for continuing to participate in the national conversation about racial injustice. We support those who knelt to peacefully protest racial injustice and those who stood to express love of country. We do not see these as mutually exclusive sentiments and believe the freedom to express both is what our country is about. As an organization we reaffirm our denouncement of acts of discrimination and violence against the members of the Black community and our pledge to work together with those who seek to end racial injustice in America.’’

The Giants sent a message that reverberated throughout baseball Monday night, and made it clear they’re not about to be silenced.

“I think tonight was a good start,’’ Kapler said. “I’m extremely proud of our players and staff for making both decisions. Everyone in our clubhouse, on the field, and in this ballpark was very thoughtful of their choice.

“And I’m proud of that.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

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