When the A’s greeted one another in celebration following their 6-4 win over the Texas Rangers on Thursday, cameras at the Oakland Coliseum caught a moment that would almost instantly go viral on social media.
NBC Sports California's broadcast showed A’s bench coach Ryan Christenson raising his right arm straight, seemingly making a Nazi salute. Closer Liam Hendriks corrected Christenson’s form, and the coach followed that by repeating the gesture.
He and the A's have since publicly apologized, saying the salute was unintentional. That sentiment mirrored what outfielder Mark Canha had to say when he addressed the media Friday.
“My reaction to it that I think Ryan Christenson accidentally made a gesture that looked like the 'Heil Hitler' gesture and that is unfortunate, and he did it while trying to do a karate chop handshake with Liam Hendriks that Liam’s been doing since, as far as I can remember, last year with every teammate,” Canha said.
Canha told reporters he heard of what Christenson had done when his wife, Marci, brought it to his attention. He said he was caught off-guard, but had to watch the clip. He didn’t see it in person when it had originally occurred.
“I had to see it for myself because I was like ‘What happened?' ’’ Canha recalled. "And my initial reaction is like, if you see [Christinson’s] reaction to Liam, it’s like bending his arm, to show him, ‘Hey, you need to bend your arm to do this.; You can see he’s caught off guard and realizes what he’s done and it wasn’t intentional at all if you’re reading the body language of it. It’s really easy to forget you’re always on camera, and I think he just kind of slipped and didn’t realize what he did quickly and you can just see the fact that it’s unintentional by watching the video.”
In the video, Christenson made the gesture again after Hendriks corrected the coach's arm. Christenson told the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser it was his way of realizing what he had initially done. Hendriks personally texted Slusser backing his coach's account.
Canha was asked how he interpreted Christenson doing the gesture twice.
“I think we have to be very careful when we are interpreting people’s intentions,” Canha said. “It looked to me like he had realized what he had done and kind of taken a ... kind of comedic approach to it. ... [W]hile it doesn’t look good, I think that there are tons of ways you can interpret what happened, but just because of that, and because it’s someone that we’re talking about, like, suspending a person now, I don’t think we should automatically go to the worst possible interpretation.”
[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
Plenty of A's fans and other social-media users loudly denounced the gesture, and Canha knew that would be the case. Canha said the gesture doesn't reflect Christenson's character, and the coach has been "overly respectful," "overly politically correct" and "overly professional in the clubhouse" since joining the A's big league staff in 2018.
“If there’s one thing you need to know about Ryan Christenson, it's that,” Canha explained. “And I fully believe this was unintentional and I think that because of the fact that he acknowledged that this happened, and that it was wrong, even though it was an accident and that the only reason that it did happen stems from the intention of giving a personalized handshake to a teammate. I think we ought to give him a pass.
"This is just an unfortunate thing that we are acknowledging is wrong. We’re not trying to move past it quickly, we’re not trying to sweep it under the rug. We’re not trying to brush it off. We are fully acknowledging that he made a mistake, that it was accidental and it was completely unintentional.”
Canha was asked if Christenson had ever done anything that would be considered racially insensitive during their time together, and Canha immediately said so. He said Christenson is the polar opposite.
“I think Ryan edges on the opposite on the extreme of that in trying to be fully professional and being very careful actually of what he says and does and says in his time in the clubhouse,” Canha added. “We have Black players, we have Latino players. As long as I’ve known Ryan, he’s always been overly sensitive and professional, respectful of that. A lot of things get said in the locker room (and) clubhouse when reporters aren’t around that can be off-color at times, and I’ve never (known) Ryan to even joke or do anything. He’s never slipped up once. It stood out, it’s something I noticed. I haven’t known him as long as some of the others guys have, but that’s always been something that stood out to me.”
Canha said he didn't believe Christenson should face a suspension or any kind of related reprimand, noting that Christenson was "apologetic" and "wasn't trying to say that he didn't do it."
If you look at the video and zoom out, Canha said, you could see the rest of the team was ready to give the karate chop handshake. But, Canha admitted Hendriks probably should change the way the handshake is presented.
“It doesn’t help the people who are offended by this I suppose," Canha said. "But just the fact that it’s completely accidental, you can’t fault a guy for doing that.”
Canha knows he might not change anyone's opinion with what he said Friday, considering the backlash Christenson and the A's have faced.
But Canha's OK with that, and he said that might even be a good thing.
“I don’t think we need to change people’s minds,” Canha said. “People make up their minds about this sort of thing and where they stand on it. I'll say this, I think it’s a positive thing that this is being talked about, that our generation is at a place where we’re talking about something like this and having discussions. It’s a sign of progress.
“I think that we need to just take it as a positive and see what happens and learn from it and see it as kind of a positive thing, even though it’s not. Making a gesture like that is not a positive thing. We need to take the learning experience as a positive in the right direction.”