LOS ANGELES — Dave Roberts and Mookie Betts both were raised by fathers who served in the military. A few years ago, after Colin Kaepernick took a knee to peacefully protest social injustice and police brutality toward people of color in this country, Roberts and Betts each spoke out against not standing for the national anthem, pointing to the need to show respect for those in uniform.
On Thursday, with the season underway and Major League Baseball wrapping its arms around the Black Lives Matter movement like never before, both men demonstrated a renewed perspective toward the demonstration.
Roberts, the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ manager, whose father served 30 years in the Marine Corps, lent his voice to it, saying that standing for the anthem and protesting the systemic racism that still pervades this country are “not mutually exclusive.”
“As I’ve learned,” Roberts said, “I just believe that you’re not trying to disrespect the soldiers, men and women that serve our country and lay their lives on the line every single day, my father included.”
Betts, beginning his first season as the Dodgers’ right fielder, acted on it, taking a knee before the first pitch against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium — less than four years after saying he would always stand because his father, Willie, served in the Vietnam War as a member of the Air Force.
“I wasn’t educated,” Betts said when asked how his perspective has changed since September 2016. “That’s my fault. I need to be educated on the situation. I know my dad served and I’ll never disrespect the flag, but there’s also gotta be change in the world, and kneeling has nothing to do with those who served our country.”
Bruce Maxwell, a former Oakland Athletics catcher, was the only major league player to protest racial injustice by taking a knee back in 2017. On Thursday, players and coaches on the Dodgers and Giants all kneeled while holding a black ribbon in solidarity during the airing of a video message that was written by Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen and his wife, Maria, and narrated by Morgan Freeman. The anthem followed, and Betts remained on a knee, with teammates Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger placing their hands on his shoulder as a sign of support. No other Dodger knelt, but a handful of Giants, including manager Gabe Kapler, continued to do so.
Betts went on to spark the five-run seventh inning that led to the Dodgers’ 8-1 victory, slapping a base hit into left field and scoring from third base on a grounder to give his new team the lead before the game broke open. Betts, playing one day after signing a 12-year, $365 million extension, said the lack of fans “helped dilute” his nerves before the game. The former American League MVP kept the lineup card and made sure to ask for the ball after his single, which accounted for his first and only hit of the night.
Betts said he was “looking for a lot more of those” — but he doesn’t know if he will continue to kneel.
“I think kneeling is definitely something that shows we need change, but also I have to put some action into play as far as away from MLB,” Betts said. “That’s my primary goal. Today was just to unify both sides and just to show that we are here for change.”