Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics thrust baseball straight into the controversy surrounding national anthem protests when he became the first major-league player to kneel during the national anthem on Saturday. The 26-year-old rookie catcher, who is from a military family, made it clear that part of the reason why he finally decided to drop to one knee during the national anthem was at least in part to protest comments by President Donald Trump that NFL owners should fire players who did just that.
“My decision had been coming for a long time,” Maxwell said. “The only way we can come together is by informing. … To single out NFL players for doing this isn’t something we should be doing—I felt it should be a little more broad.” Earlier in the day, Maxwell, who is African American, criticized Trump’s comments in both Twitter and Instagram. “Our president speaks of inequality of man because players are protesting the anthem! Fuck this man!” Maxwell wrote on Instagram. He also retweeted a message that called on all NFL players to kneel for the anthem Sunday.
Maxwell placed his hand on his heart and faced the flag during the anthem and while no one else joined him, Mark Canha, who is white, put his right hand on one of Maxwell’s shoulders. “Every fiber in my being was telling me he needed a brother today,” Canha said. The teammates hugged after the anthem was over and the A’s released a short statement of support. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive. We respect and support all our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”
Maxwell didn’t catch his teammates by surprise as he told them all about this decision to kneel before the game. “He was as articulate as I’ve seen him,” manager Bob Melvin said. “This wasn’t an emotional thing just today for him. Something had been leading up to it and he felt today would be the right platform to do it.”
Although the NFL has seen several players join the protest that began in September 2016, when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem, Major League Baseball had been silent. That dynamic is hardly surprising considering the league is majority white and only 7.7 percent of players are African-American. “Professional baseball players are, by and large, a politically conservative group,” writes Jon Tayler in Sports Illustrated. “And perhaps more than any other sport, they are encouraged—or at least cautioned—not to speak their minds about politics and the world beyond the diamond.” The question now is whether others will follow Maxwell’s lead.