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Angels’ Keynan Middleton kneels during national anthem, wants to be a ‘voice for unity’

Angels' Keynan Middleton pitches during a spring training game against the Milwaukee Brewers, on March 8 in Phoenix.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

Fox Sports West didn’t air footage of Angels reliever Keynan Middleton kneeling with his fist in the air during the national anthem at Petco Park on Monday until the 10th inning when Middleton entered the game to pitch.

The delay was intentional on the part of the production crew. A person familiar with the operation who was unable to comment publicly said Tuesday the network wanted to give broadcasters Victor Rojas and Mark Gubicza an opportunity to frame it within the narrative of the game.

Fox Sports West intends to continue airing national anthem demonstrations that occur during the season because it is the network’s “obligation” to viewers, the person said.

Middleton, whose demonstration preceded an exhibition game against the San Diego Padres, joined several other players and coaches around the league in protest of racial injustice and police brutality.

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Middleton was unavailable to comment but addressed his decision to kneel during the anthem in a social media post. He wrote that everyone “should take this fight against racial injustice seriously” and he wanted to use his platform as a major league player to effect change.

“Racism is something I’ve dealt with my whole life,” he said in part of the statement. “As a Black man in this country, it is my obligation to want to better the future for generations to come. Over the past few months, I’ve been out in the community taking part in peaceful protests and having the difficult conversations that are needed for change.

“Before, pioneers like Jackie Robinson, a Black man, didn’t have a voice in the game of baseball. The foundation laid down and sacrifices made by Jackie and others is the reason why I have the platform I do. I will not allow that to go to waste.”

He concluded the post with the words, “Through this, I strive to be a voice for unity.”

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Angels manager Joe Maddon said Middleton brought up taking a knee during the anthem in a videoconference in June, when the team and other Angels employees met to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement among other racial and social justice topics after the death of George Floyd.

Middleton, who is 26 and the father of two daughters, stood out during the meeting. Maddon said Middleton was upset that he hadn’t made his views known sooner and described Middleton as “passionate” about his beliefs.

“That’s what he showed you tonight,” Maddon said. “He’s a wonderful young man and he’s among a lot of wonderful young people in our country that are gonna demonstrate in that way.”

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler joined players and coaches in taking a knee during the anthem around the same time as Middleton. Major League Baseball’s Twitter account blasted the message to its 8.5 million followers and defended the actions of the Giants when fans pushed back.

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“Supporting human rights is not political,” the account wrote in response to a tweet that asked MLB to keep politics out of baseball.

President Trump, a longtime critic of such protests, seemed to react to the demonstrations Tuesday, tweeting: “Looking forward to live sports, but any time I witness a player kneeling during the National Anthem, a sign of great disrespect for our Country and our Flag, the game is over for me!”

No Angels joined Middleton, but Maddon said the team was supportive of his action.

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Angels general manager Billy Eppler also backed Middleton, saying, “I support Keynan in his pursuit of equality and I also support peaceful efforts to make the world a more just place.”

Maddon doesn’t know if Middleton, who was vocal about condemning systemic racism before Monday’s actions, will continue to kneel during the anthem when the regular season begins Friday.

“It is his choice,” Maddon said. “And I promise you it will be well thought out.”

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Short hops


Anthony Rendon, sidelined since last Thursday because of an oblique injury, made the trip to Dodger Stadium on Tuesday but did not play. The third baseman is questionable for Friday night’s season opener at Oakland. Asked to update Rendon’s condition before Tuesday’s game, Maddon said, “Nothing better or worse as of right now.” … Maddon anticipates that Patrick Sandoval “may actually be ready for the season,” despite the left-hander’s late arrival to camp because of a positive COVID-19 test. Sandoval will start Wednesday night’s exhibition game against the Padres at Angel Stadium, with Matt Andriese pitching in relief. … Jacob Rhame, a hard-throwing reliever who was claimed off waivers from the New York Mets on July 8, cleared waivers Tuesday and was outrighted to the team’s alternate training site at Blair Field in Long Beach.

Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.


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