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Mookie Betts takes a knee during national anthem before Dodgers’ season opener

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Mookie Betts kneeled during the national anthem before the Dodgers’ season-opening 8-1 win against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday night, joining a growing number of players around baseball this week choosing to protest racial injustice and police brutality with the act.

“It just shows unity,” Betts said during a televised interview in regard to his teammates joining him. “I think everybody is on board with what’s going on in the world. We have to make some change. It starts here. We have to do our part. It’s amazing to know that everybody here is on board with something that we have to find a way to make change. This is the first step.”

In addition to Betts, San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler and several of his players also kneeled during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which followed a pregame ceremony promoting social justice.

“I have talked to our guys about kneeling and for me it was more of individual choice,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Thursday afternoon, wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt for a pregame video conference with reporters. “Collectively, we really haven’t settled on anything. But for me I just wanted to encourage each and every man to make their own decision.”

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Before the anthem, players from the Dodgers and Giants joined in a pre-planned ceremony, kneeling while clutching a black ribbon that stretched down the first and third base lines. Roberts said the moment was conceived of by the Players Alliance, an organization of current and former Black major league and minor league players, including Betts. The Players Alliance also produced a video shown on the Dodger Stadium Jumbotron featuring current and former Black major leaguers. Actor Morgan Freeman narrated another clip that was shown in the stadium.

The teams held the ribbon “in unity to support social justice and talk about racial injustice,” Roberts said.

Once the anthem started, Betts, who signed a 12-year contract extension worth $365 million Wednesday, was the only player or coach on the Dodgers’ side to remain kneeling. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy each placed a hand Betts’ shoulders. His decision to kneel came after he was critical this month of baseball’s response to the killing of George Floyd. Betts said he isn’t sure if he will continue kneeling during the anthem.

“I think kneeling is definitely something that shows we need change, but also I have to put some actions into play away from MLB and that’s my primary goal,” Betts said after Thursday’s game. “Today was just to unify both teams, both sides.”

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That opinion is a reversal for Betts. In 2016, Betts said he would always stand for the anthem because his father, Willie, served in the Air Force and is a Vietnam War veteran. On Thursday, he said he changed his mind on the meaning behind the gesture.

“I think then I wasn’t exactly sure, I wasn’t educated, and that’s my fault,” Betts said. “I need to be educated on the situation. I know my dad served and I’ll never disrespect he flag, but there’s also got to be change in the world. Kneeling has nothing to do with those who served our country. Kneeling is for the injustice.”

Roberts, the son of a Marine, experienced a similar turn on the subject. In 2017, the manager took issue with the idea of kneeling during the national anthem after then-Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell followed San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lead. He said he “would have a problem” if a Dodger knelt during the anthem.

On Thursday, he said he changed that stance.

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“I’m always trying to evolve and learn and be educated,” Roberts said. “I’ve realized that standing at attention, it’s not mutually exclusive to your thoughts on social justice and police brutality and things that Colin Kaepernick, Maxie, what he felt. As I’ve learned, I just believe that you’re not trying to disrespect the soldiers, men and women that serve our country and lay their lives on the line every single day, my father included. So yeah, I have evolved and changed.”

His players have also become more active in the wake of the nationwide protests over police brutality and social injustice.

Last week, a group of Dodgers launched an “In This Together” initiative to raise money for local organizations promoting social justice and have been in consultation with activists from the Liberty Hill Foundation about organizing in-person events once the pandemic ends.

Before the game, members of the team wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts on the field. Others wore sleeve patches promoting the cause on their game jerseys. On the back of the mound at Dodger Stadium, the letters “BLM” were written beneath an MLB logo.


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