PHILADELPHIA -- Andrew McCutchen wanted to convey unity more than anything on Opening Day 2020. So rather than take a knee during the national anthem to express support for social justice following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the growing importance and influence of the Black Lives Matter movement, he and his wife had a different idea.
They asked MLB to allow players to hold black tapestries on the field. They wrote a speech, which Morgan Freeman read.
“What does it take for the world to change?” McCutchen said on Friday. “It takes all of us, not just baseball itself, not just African-Americans. No, it takes every single person to fight this one battle that we’ve been fighting for quite some time. I think some people are starting to hear it now.”
The Phillies, the African American Museum in Philadelphia and Citizens hosted a virtual “Athletes and Activism: Baseball, Race and Social Justice” roundtable on Friday afternoon with McCutchen, Jimmy Rollins, Milt Thompson and Harold Reynolds as part of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. weekend celebration.
The hour-long event was streamed on the Phillies’ YouTube channel and on the AAMP and Citizens web sites on Monday evening.
“It just led to more conversations in the clubhouse, amongst people,” McCutchen said, “not only players, but coaching staff, front office. People really wanted to sit down and really understand what they wanted to do. So many people want to help. They don’t necessarily know how. They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It opened up the table to have these discussions amongst each other to say, where do we go from here?”
Rollins has never shied from sharing his opinions. He has expressed his views about the happenings of the past year on social media. It has been difficult and frustrating.
“I would get texts and calls, and I didn’t feel like talking about it,” Rollins said. “Not with other Black people, but with people who weren’t Black. They were trying to get understanding. And it’s like, I’m mad. I don’t want to have to explain to you something that I’ve tried to explain to you over and over, and as a culture we’ve tried to explain to you over and over and over. And now you see it, finally. I don’t want to talk about it right now. For what? What’s going to change? We’re going to have a conversation, and you’re going to feel empathy for me and then you’re going to go back to living your life. I live with this -- we live with this -- every single day.
“What is best is really getting the powers that be to say a change needs to be made. We’re singing it to the choir. We’ve been doing this since Martin Luther King and prior to that.”
Things are changing, albeit too slowly. Thompson, 62, and Reynolds, 60, talked about how they could not have taken the steps current players took or said the things they said when they played in the 1980s and ’90s.
“Even though we had the numbers, we still couldn’t have been getting on a knee and thinking we were going to get away with it and creating a conversation,” Reynolds said.
Thompson recalled the time Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the Cardinals and asked the Black players to go on strike to push for more diversity in baseball. The reaction? They could not. They probably would not be allowed back on the field.
“Fortunately, times have changed, and guys are able to take knees and voice their displeasure with what’s going on right now,” Thompson said.