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Volume 20 No. 41
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The issue of unity: MLB


Major League Baseball certainly knows what it’s like to be in the bull’s-eye of Washington scrutiny, having spent much of the early part of this century facing a series of battles about performance-enhancing drugs and the sport’s testing policies, and several more times in the prior century regarding its antitrust exemption.

The recent furor over national anthem protests, conversely, has been a much quieter situation for baseball.

Oakland A’s backup catcher Bruce Maxwell on Sept. 23 became the first MLB player to kneel during the anthem, seeking to raise awareness of racial and social inequality in America. But compared to the anthem drama in football dominating national news cycles, Maxwell’s action received relatively little notice, even as he became part of Sports Illustrated’s “A Nation Divided, Sports United” cover montage.

Maxwell, hailing from a military family and born in Germany while his father was stationed there with the U.S. Army, discussed his intention to kneel in advance with A’s general manager David Forst and manager Bob Melvin, and then held a team meeting to field questions from teammates. A’s executives were also quickly in contact with MLB headquarters, and soon after the anthem, both the club and league issued public statements of support.

The A’s indicated they “respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression,” while MLB similarly said it has “a longstanding tradition of honoring our nation prior to the start of the game. We also respect that each of our players is an individual with his own background, perspectives and opinions.”

MLB Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem also conferred with MLB Players Association officials on the matter, and union Executive Director Tony Clark said, “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.”

Since Maxwell’s initial kneeling, MLB has fielded several other calls from individual clubs to discuss the issue internally. And Maxwell has continued to kneel and receive clear support from his teammates.

But so far, baseball has escaped the public scorn of President Donald Trump.

“My decision had been coming for a long time,” Maxwell said. “The only way we come together is by informing. … To single out NFL players for doing this isn’t something we should be doing. I felt it should be a little more broad.”

— Eric Fisher