NEW YORK -- For Dominic Smith, it’s about so much more than taking a knee.
Smith grew up in South Central Los Angeles, in an impoverished, mostly minority neighborhood that has swallowed up the lives of many. From a young age, Smith understood the difficulties of being a Black American. He bristled when he saw some of his community members succeed, leave the area and never return to help others. He vowed not to do the same.
Earlier this year, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent protests around the country, Smith refrained from kneeling during the national anthem because, in his words, “taking a knee just isn’t enough.” He spoke about the importance of donating time to educate and lift the younger generation, versus kneeling on a baseball field but falling short of impactful change.
The fact that Smith took a knee before Wednesday’s Mets game against the Marlins at Citi Field was not evidence of changed views. Smith wanted to show his support for others protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., including several NBA and MLB teams that agreed not to play their scheduled games. But he still badly wants athletes and others around the world to work for additional change.
“I’ve been very emotional just to kind of see this continually happen,” Smith said, openly weeping during a postgame Zoom call with reporters. “It was a long day for me. I kind of wasn’t there mentally.
“I think the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care. For this to just continually happen, it just shows just the hate in people’s hearts. That just sucks. Being a Black man in America is not easy.”
Smith’s path out of inner-city Los Angeles was through Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy, which was founded in Compton, Calif., in 2006 before spreading to other cities around the United States. After reaching the Majors, Smith founded Baseball Generations, an organization that aids player development in that area. While the organization caters specifically to youth baseball players, Smith has stressed that his goal is to develop young men and women regardless of their interests.
“There are a lot of things we can do in the inner city just to bring happiness to children,” Smith said. “I didn’t grow up with money. That [expletive] doesn’t mean nothing to me. If you can give your time, that’s the thing that matters. That’s why I feel so emotional about it, because people get their money and they leave. You can’t do that. You’ve got to be there for the children that’s coming up after us. I think that’s the biggest thing is if you give your time, that’s the only way we can change.”
It was not until Wednesday afternoon that the Milwaukee Bucks, followed by other NBA teams, chose to boycott their postseason games in protest of American police brutality. The Brewers, Reds and several other MLB teams followed. Before emerging onto the field, Smith did not tell any of his teammates that he planned to kneel during the anthem.
Michael Conforto, who has known Smith since shortly after he was drafted, said he wished he had known so that he could have stood next to him during the anthem in support. Although Conforto and manager Luis Rojas said they do not personally plan to kneel in the future, they support and respect Smith’s decision to do so.
“I’ve learned a lot about Dom,” Conforto said. “Obviously, I’ve known him for a very long time, and I know where he comes from. He’s shared a lot of things with me. I’m definitely sympathetic to those experiences that he’s had. His world is much different than mine, and so it’s definitely helped me to listen and to understand where he’s coming from, and where a ton of people are coming from here.”