By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–The momentum moving through the sports world Wednesday was swift and wide-ranging. In Lake Buena Vista, Florida, the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to take the floor for Game 5 of their NBA Playoff versus Orlando. The other four NBA teams on the schedule soon followed suit. Then the WNBA, MLS, tennis champion Naomi Osaka, the Milwaukee Brewers and three other MLB teams cancelled their scheduled games and events.
At Oracle Park, the conversations started with Mookie Betts texting family members who informed Betts that several teams and players were not playing in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Dodgers superstar was preparing to play in Wednesday night’s Dodgers-Giants game. After the texting, he changed his mind, informing his teammates and manager that he would be sitting out.
“I can’t play,” Betts said.
Clayton Kershaw, the team’s senior member and a vocal critic of inequality and police brutality, questioned whether the rest of the team should play without Betts. Kershaw, the scheduled starting pitcher Wednesday was soon in agreement with manager Dave Roberts, reliever Kenley Jansen and Betts: the Dodgers were not going to play.
“We made a collective group decision to not play tonight, to let our voices be heard for standing up for what we believe is right,” Kershaw said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
The Dodgers never took the field for batting practice. The Giants did, but the conversations were taking place, most importantly between team president Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler. Last month, Kapler made headlines by being the first MLB manager to kneel during the playing of the national anthem.
Soon those talks included GM Scott Harris and team player rep Tony Watson. Other Giants warming up spoke in small groups. Batting practice was cut short and the team retreated to their clubhouse.
Shortly after 6pm an announcement was made: the Giants were in agreement. They also would not play Wednesday night.
“Some things I think are just bigger than sports, and I don’t think it should require athletes needing to boycott playoff games to remind us Black lives matter and that police brutality is unacceptable and that systemic racism needs to be eliminated,” Kapler said. “What I believe in most is speaking out and taking strong action based on your beliefs. I’m aware that the Bucks and now some other NBA teams are doing that, and I have the utmost respect for the players who are refusing to be silent about issues that are bigger than sports.”
Shortly before the scheduled first pitch at 6:45pm, the teams released a joint statement:
“Throughout our country’s history, sport has been a powerful vehicle towards change. The Dodgers and Giants proudly join our players in the shared goal for a more equitable and just society.”
Roberts, the first African-American manager in the history of the Dodgers also spoke about the postponement.
“Black athletes right now to make a stand and choose not to play tonight is one thing,” Roberts said. “But Black people been fighting this fight for centuries. And for the white brothers to come in and support the Black men in this game, it’s much more powerful.”
Betts is the only African-American player currently on either teams’ rosters, reinforcing the universal condemnation of the events in Wisconsin, and police brutality in its total scope, including the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
In all, only the NHL completed its full schedule on Wednesday. Several MLB games went off as scheduled, but games involving the Reds and Brewers, and the Mariners and Padres were called off. Also several black players pulled out of games that were played. That list included the Cubs’ Jason Heyward, the Cardinals’ Dexter Fowler and the Rockies’ Matt Kemp.
The teams have announced they will make up the game on Thursday, as part of a doubleheader that starts at 1:05pm. Both games of the twin bill are scheduled for seven innings.