Programming note: Tune in to "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on Friday, July 24 on NBC Sports Bay Area after "Giants Postgame Live" and NBC Sports California after "A's Postgame Live."
No matter how hard people with opposing points of view, including the President, flex their keyboard muscles and try to shove him into suppression, Gabe Kapler will not back down.
The Giants manager and several Giants players knelt during the national anthem Monday night and did so again on Tuesday before the Giants-A’s game at a vacant Oracle Park. Kapler and his players were the second to do so in Major League Baseball – former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell was the first, in 2017 – and Kapler himself was the first manager or coach in major American sports to stage such a protest against racial injustice.
"I was thrilled to see him do it," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area.
This is, in the conservative, tradition-bound world of baseball, a bold stand.
This is, to those supporting the discrimination that has existed in America four centuries -- or continuing to falsely label this as disrespecting the military or the flag -- a loathsome move.
This is, for anyone disgusted with racism and longing for a better America and a more equitable planet, as right as it is noble.
For Kapler, who thoughtfully addresses the issue on the next episode of NBC Sports Bay Area's “Race in America: A Candid Conversation” on Friday night, it’s mostly a matter of principle.
“I don’t think it makes any sense to be blindly in allegiance with the country, or with the flag,” he says. “It makes sense to listen to what the words of the Star-Spangled Banner are saying. Listen to the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, and say: Do these words apply? If they do, then absolutely stand up. If they don’t apply, the most American and patriotic thing you can do is to use our voices to say, ‘I don’t believe this is actually happening right now.’”
Kapler, who turns 45 on July 31, grew up a Jewish kid in Southern California. His parents, Michael and Judy, were activists opposed to the Vietnam War, fighting for civil rights and feminism. In the Kapler home, then and now, principle matters. It’s in the blood.
“I've had conversations with my family, conversations with friends around the game and people from other organizations,” he says. “And one of the things that I heard and continue to hear is that we have an opportunity – and when I say ‘we,’ I mean people in positions of authority in sports, people in positions of privilege in sports – have both the responsibility and an opportunity to amplify the voices of black people. To amplify the voices of marginalized groups, and groups that in many ways are asking for our partnership.
“I take that responsibility pretty seriously. I have a lot to learn and a lot of listening to do, but I also feel like it's the right time to speak loudly in sports while all eyes are on us.”
[RACE IN AMERICA: Listen to the latest episode]
Among the Giants who joined Kapler in kneeling Monday night in Oakland was outfielder Jaylin Davis, the only African American on the roster. Several more – including Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval – dropped to a knee Tuesday.
This comes with the full and fervent support of the team’s new front office chief, Farhan Zaidi, who has not been bashful about flipping flames toward the ignorant. Zaidi issued a postgame statement saying he was “proud” of the peaceful protest by his manager and players.
What was surprising, even as corporations crawl over each other to convey racial awareness and sensitivity, was MLB using its Twitter account to stand firmly behind the Giants.
One tweet: “Supporting human rights is not political.”
Another: “It has never been about the military or the flag. The players and coaches are using their platforms to peacefully protest.”
Insofar as both tweets are factual, these are fair points. It is somewhat refreshing, though, as MLB – at every level – has not always concerned itself with fairness.
Maxwell experienced that as much as anyone in recent years, and his experience leaves Kapler with a twinge of regret for not speaking up three years ago.
“I don’t know why it took so long,” he says. “I wish I had a concise way of wrapping this up. In a lot of ways, it’s inexcusable.
“To some degree, frustrations have gotten to a point, dissatisfaction with the way our country has handled systemic racism, and racism in general, has come to a place where people aren’t just OK (with it) anymore. I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but I feel like this time it’s just screaming at us. There’s no choice, no other way, but to speak up and have the conversations.”
Kapler’s viewpoint will cost him points with those unconcerned with equality. He’s unbothered by this, perhaps because it's in his blood to be an ally to those in the fight.