Players united in message: 'Have to step up'

August 27th, 2020

An unprecedented ripple effect took hold across the sports landscape on Wednesday, with social justice activism replacing competition in pro leagues throughout the United States.

The day began with the Milwaukee Bucks refusing to take the court for Game 5 of their playoff game with the Orlando Magic in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday. The other NBA teams scheduled to play followed suit, and all three scheduled playoff games were eventually postponed. 

As word of this spread, Brewers reliever Josh Hader indicated on Wednesday afternoon that his team might join its NBA counterpart in sitting out, which it did. The Brewers -- as well as the Mariners and Dodgers -- voted not to take the field on Wednesday, and MLB subsequently announced postponements of three games: Brewers-Reds, Mariners-Padres and Dodgers-Giants. The WNBA also postponed its Wednesday slate, while MLS postponed five of its six games.

“Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight,” MLB said in a statement. “Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice.”

“At this critical time, players have been deeply affected by the recent events in Wisconsin and by similar events in other parts of the country,” Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark said in a statement. “We are proud of the stand that our Players have taken, and we remain committed to supporting their efforts to effect change in MLB communities and beyond.”

The Brewers were the first MLB team to take action. They met for a discussion at Miller Park soon after the Bucks made their decision not to play. The Blake shooting took place in Kenosha, Wis., a 40-minute drive from Milwaukee. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times by a police officer. He survived, but he is paralyzed from the waist down, according to the family’s lawyer.

After a discussion between Brewers and Reds players, the two sides decided to not play.

In a text message to Adam McCalvy of, Brewers player rep Brent Suter called it "a collective Reds-Brewers decision not to play tonight to focus on our community hurting and the issues that are bigger than baseball."

The decision was reportedly unanimous.

“Obviously with what happened in Kenosha, it’s close to home,” outfielder Ryan Braun said. “We’ve worn shirts that say, ‘Justice. Equality. Now.’ We’ve made statements. But at some point, actions speak louder than words and we felt like today provided a unique opportunity, a moment for us to use our platform to actually put these words and these statements into action.”

“We’ve talked since the beginning of Summer Camp about what these shirts mean,” outfielder Christian Yelich said. “And there comes a time when you have to live it, you have to step up."

Hader, who was speaking with reporters on Zoom just as the Bucks were starting their boycott, added: “I think it’s an enormous stand. It’s more than sports, and they showed it. It’s not about the game; it’s more than that. And this is a time where we need to really not stay quiet and show our power and our voices.”

Reds closer Amir Garrett tweeted, “Proud of my organization @Reds and also the @Brewers/We were able to come together and make a decision not to play. We stand in solidarity today and I am very proud. We need change, and we need it now. #BlackLivesMatter.”

Sports in America, at least for Wednesday, took on a dramatically different tone within hours of the Wisconsin teams opting not to play.

Dodgers star outfielder Mookie Betts made the personal decision not to play in the Dodgers’ game, but he initially encouraged his team to play. Teammates chose not to.

“Once Mookie said he wasn’t going to play, that really started our conversation on the team to support that, and we felt the best thing was to not play with him,” pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. “Mookie was saying, ‘If you guys want to play, I support that.’ But we made a collective, group decision to not play tonight and let our voices be heard for standing up for what is right.”

Said Betts: “I think no matter what I wasn’t going to play tonight, just because I have to stand by my heart here, my thoughts that changes need to be made. I need my platform to at least get the ball rolling. I talked to my teammates and told them how I felt, and they were all by my side and I can’t ask for any better teammates than what I have here. I appreciate everything that was said and done so far.”

On the other side of the field, the Giants were in agreement that postponing was the right thing to do.

“Some things are bigger than sports, and I don’t think it should require athletes needing to boycott playoff games to remind us Black Lives Matter and that police brutality is unacceptable and that systemic racism needs to be eliminated,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “What I believe in most is speaking out and taking strong action based on your beliefs.

“I have the utmost respect for the players who are refusing to be silent about issues that are bigger than sports. Racism and police brutality are issues that we’re not going to be silent about, either.”

In Detroit, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward opted to not play in the Cubs’ game against the Tigers, but he encouraged his team to play as scheduled. Heyward posted a photo of himself on Instagram, without comment, wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.

Rockies outfielder Matt Kemp took himself out of the lineup for his team’s game with the D-backs. He posted a lengthy statement on Instagram, which read, in part: “Tonight I stand with my fellow professional athletes in protest of the injustices my people continue to suffer. I could not play this game I love so much tonight, knowing the hurt and anguish my people continue to feel.”

Both Black players on the Cardinals’ roster, Jack Flaherty and Dexter Fowler, also opted not to play in their home game with the Royals.

The Cardinals posted a statement on Twitter: “Dexter Fowler and Jack Flaherty have decided to stand in solidarity with other players throughout Major League Baseball. Dexter Fowler is a healthy scratch from tonight’s game. The Cardinals organization supports their decisions.”

At Citi Field, Mets first baseman Dominic Smith knelt during the national anthem. In his postgame press conference, Smith became emotional and teared up.

“I’ve been very emotional, just to see this continues to happen,” he said. “It was a long day for me.”

In the western part of the country, the baseball workday was just beginning as the Bucks and Brewers news began to circulate. Along with the Dodgers and Giants, the Mariners voted unanimously not to play, and the Padres players agreed. The Mariners have 11 African American players on their 40-man roster, the most of any MLB team.

“There are serious issues in this country,” second baseman Dee Gordon said. “For me, and for many of my teammates, the injustices, violence, death and systemic racism is deeply personal. This is impacting not only my community, but very directly my family and friends. Our team voted unanimously to not play tonight.

“Instead of watching us, we hope people will focus on the things more important than sports that are happening.”

The Mariners tweeted a message of support: “The Seattle Mariners respect the team’s decision to not play tonight’s game. The Seattle Mariners stand with our players as they speak out with their words and actions against social injustice. #BlackLivesMatter.”

All three sets of games will be made up as doubleheaders on Thursday.