Major League Baseball, the sport of Jackie Robinson and long ago a touchstone of civil rights, saw its first athlete join the movement started by Colin Kaepernick and inflamed this weekend by President Trump.
Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell, who hinted at such an action earlier in the day, knelt during the national anthem before Saturday night’s game against the Texas Rangers.
Maxwell, a 26-year-old catcher from Alabama, composed several tweets Saturday in the wake of President Trump’s comments Friday night to “fire the sons of (expletives)” in the NFL who kneeled for the anthem. Kaepernick’s protest was conceived in the wake of social injustices and the shooting of unarmed African Americans by law enforcement.
Maxwell’s tweets Saturday made it clear that Trump’s verbiage took the movement to another level: “This now has gone from just a BlackLives Matter topic to just complete inequality of any man or woman that wants to stand for Their rights!”
In a profane Instagram post, he implored “every single NFL player” to kneel on Sunday, and then he followed up his words with actions before Saturday night’s game in Oakland, kneeling in the dirt in front of the A’s dugout at the Coliseum.
There was immediate support from his organization. Teammate Mark Canha kept a hand on Maxwell’s shoulder as he engaged in his protest as the anthem played, and wrapped him in a hug once it concluded. And the A’s sent out a message of support moments after the protest.
Maxwell has played in 104 career games and has a lifetime .256 batting average. He entered the season as the A’s 10th-best prospect, according to Baseball America.
Maxwell, like Kaepernick an African American of mixed race, was born in Germany while his father was stationed there in the Army.
He was raised in Alabama, site of Trump’s Friday night speech during which the president blasted NFL players for kneeling during the anthem and also bemoaned what he seemed to consider an overriding concern within the league for brain injuries.
Saturday morning, Trump took umbrage at Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry’s reluctance to visit the White House and rescinded any invitation.
Trump’s speech and morning-after tweets aroused a sports world that had largely let Kaepernick – currently without an NFL job – kneel alone since his protest began in August 2016.
As NFL players geared up for what may be a significant day of protest before Sunday’s games, and NBA players blasted the president on social media as well, Maxwell’s Twitter and Instagram feeds went beyond his usual penchant for Alabama Crimson Tide football.
But until he took a knee before Saturday’s game, baseball did not yet have a player join in anthem protests that started with Kaepernick and continued through various NFL players and even to U.S. women’s national soccer team star Megan Rapinoe.
The NFL and NBA are both majority African American leagues. Major League Baseball’s decline in African American participation has been well-documented and this year, just 7.1% of players on opening-day rosters were black, according to a USA TODAY Sports analysis.
That’s the lowest percentage since 1958. In September 2016, shortly after Kaepernick’s protests began, Baltimore Orioles All-Star outfielder Adam Jones told USA TODAY Sports that a similar protest in MLB was unlikely because African-American players “already have two strikes against us, so you might as well not kick yourself out of the game. In football, you can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don’t need us.
“Baseball is a white man’s sport.’’
Saturday night, Maxwell took that risk, inspired to act by what he saw around him and unafraid of any consequences.