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Nats, Yanks unify to promote social justice

@alysonfooter
July 24, 2020

A coordinated, poignant pregame ceremony preceded the first pitch of the 2020 season on Thursday at Nationals Park, with the Yankees and Nationals acting in concert to deliver a message of social justice. Following a recorded narration by renowned actor Morgan Freeman that emphasized equality and empathy, players from both

A coordinated, poignant pregame ceremony preceded the first pitch of the 2020 season on Thursday at Nationals Park, with the Yankees and Nationals acting in concert to deliver a message of social justice.

Following a recorded narration by renowned actor Morgan Freeman that emphasized equality and empathy, players from both teams held a 200-yard black fabric as a sign of unity and then all knelt on one knee for a prolonged moment of silence.

“Equality and unity cannot be until there is empathy,” Freeman said. “Today and every day, we come together as equals, all with the same goal. To level the playing field, to change the injustices. Equality is not just a word. It’s our right. Today we stand as men from 25 nations, on six continents. Today we are one.”

The idea for the black fabric was reportedly the brainchild of Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen, according to The Athletic. McCutchen indicated in a prior statement to The Athletic that this part of the pregame ceremony was “player-led,” as an addition to a detailed social justice awareness plan mapped out by Major League Baseball that was announced earlier in the day.

After they knelt, the players all stood for the singing of the national anthem, performed by D.C. Washington. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading voice throughout the COVID-19 crisis, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

A lot has happened since baseball postponed its season four months ago in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only were Major League Baseball and the Players Association tasked with coming up with a plan to safely play a shortened season, they also needed to work together on an off-the-field topic that has gripped the nation all summer: social justice.

MLB -- in collaboration with The Players Alliance, individual MLB players and the Players Association -- has provided guidelines that invite players to support social justice and diversity and inclusion in baseball and life. MLB supports the players’ need to express themselves, while also recognizing that the way they choose to do so will vary from player to player.

In that spirit, MLB is providing flexibility for players to show their support for social justice that reflects their individual values and personalities. After consulting players for guidance, MLB has offered the following items available to players on Opening Day:

• A Black Lives Matter batting practice T-shirt, or a T-shirt designed or obtained by a club or its players.

• A patch, which reads “Black Lives Matter” or “United For Change,” that can be affixed to the player’s sleeve.

• Wristbands featuring an inverted MLB logo where the silhouetted batter is black. Opening Day will mark the first time this logo will be worn on the field.

Many players wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts during batting practice, and several BLM patches could be seen on the left sleeve of players from both teams.

Additionally, MLB has lifted its cleat restrictions for the 2020 season, giving players more freedom to express themselves throughout the year. That includes the ability to use social justice messages and causes.

Clubs are invited to stencil on the back of the mound the inverted MLB logo, with either the message “United for Change” or “BLM.” The latter was stenciled on the back of the pitcher’s mound at Nationals Park.

In the two months since the death of George Floyd sparked a nationwide reckoning and a renewed examination of race relations and social justice, MLB has pledged solidarity with the Black community in both areas.

MLB has enhanced existing partnerships with the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, made new charitable investments in the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and launched the new MLB Diverse Business Partners Recovery Project.

MLB has also utilized its social media platforms and MLB Network to amplify the voices of both active and retired Black players and allies, established a pro bono volunteer program to drive social impact and business value for social justice organizations and minority-owned businesses, and launched a new comprehensive social justice resources web page (www.mlb.com/social-justice) to promote education and conversation around social justice issues.

The efforts are visible on an individual level, too. Donations from club representatives, combined with matching donations from MLB and club owners, totaled more than $1.1 million to Campaign Zero, Color of Change, Equal Justice Initiative, the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.