In the wake of President Trump’s recent criticism of the NFL and its players kneeling for the national anthem, Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell made waves by becoming the first baseball player to join in the national protest designed to bring awareness to police violence against people of color in America.
Rays ace Chris Archer — another prominent black player in the game who is known for his thoughtfulness — was asked for his reaction to Maxwell’s silent protest over the weekend, which was covered by the Tampa Bay Times and USA Today.
Both publications rightfully noted Archer’s response as to why he was not protesting himself, which is below, but also of note was Archer’s reaction when a reporter pointed out these protests had been happening in other sports (such as the NFL and NBA) for some time:
"It did take a while in baseball, I think mainly because the other sports that do that are predominantly black. Our sport isn’t, so I think the criticism might be a little more harsh. It took somebody really special that had a unique background to take that leap.”
Archer is right, MLB and the NFL have different demographic makeups.
The following graph is taken from studies done by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida College of Business Administration (NFL and MLB).
Maybe it’s not a foregone conclusion that a majority-White sport would be resistant to such a protest, but Archer certainly seems to think so.
Those who criticize kneeling during the national anthem note that it can be seen as disrespectful of the flag, and thereby disrespectful of the very people who died for that flag. Others, including many military veterans, support these highly visible acts of nonviolent protest.
But Maxwell may be uniquely positioned to engage with that debate. He is African-American, and the son of an Army veteran. His taking a knee was, perhaps, viewed more sympathetically in the clubhouse and around the league because, as the son of a member of the armed forces, his decision to kneel was not taken lightly. Its power was well understood on both sides of the argument.
In Archer’s view, it took this perfect storm for a black baseball player to have enough support to join in the protest, and for his part, Archer thinks the timing was effective in grabbing everyone’s attention.
"Hopefully we can just have change going forward. We've been talking about it enough, but the change of people's outlook on other people and human rights, hopefully happens from this," Archer said.
If Archer seems appreciative in saying so, it may be in part because he himself is not kneeling, out of deference to other players in the Rays clubhouse who would not approve:
"Just from the feedback that I've gotten from my teammates I don't think it would be the best thing to do for me at this time. I agree with the message. I believe in equality. People that are high-ranking in our government have issues with what we're doing and have issues with certain people. I think it just kind of sends a message if it's done tastefully. And I think the baseball situation (by Maxwell), there's no better. You couldn't have done it any better."
Archer, who is biracial, said it became clear that other Rays had different views.
"I don't want to offend anybody, and no matter how you explain it or justify it some people just can't get past the military element of it," he said. "And it's not something I want to do, is ruffle my teammates' feathers over my personal views on something that has nothing to do with baseball."
And while Archer appears to be the one putting team chemistry first, it’s worth mentioning that tone does not appear to be set by the Rays organization, as Rays manager Kevin Cash says Archer (or any player) would have his support in kneeling:
"You've seen throughout sports players are entitled to kind of voice their opinions by doing that. If they chose to, I'd support it."
Quotes via USA Today and Tampa Bay Times.