Bruce Maxwell

A's Tony Kemp to join MLB players standing up against systemic racism

A's Tony Kemp to join MLB players standing up against systemic racism

Professional athletes have at times been outspoken against racism and police brutality against Black Americans.

That’s especially true in the NBA and at times in the NFL.

Baseball players have been far quieter in terms of pre-game displays of protest in the past, outside of former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell kneeling during the national anthem late in the 2017 season.

Oakland second baseman Tony Kemp says that’s about to change.

“It’s definitely going to look a bit different,” he said Monday in a video conference with A’s reporters.

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That’s being discussed by the Players Alliance, a group of current and former Black players devoted to using their platforms to enact positive change.

Kemp is part of a group led by Curtis Granderson, C.C. Sabathia and Edwin Jackson that wants to act and speak out against racial injustice, especially after recent acts of police brutality against Black Americans and the ensuing protests that have brought greater attention to the systemic racism that has existed in the United States since its inception.

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Black players across MLB plan to make a statement on Opening Day of this shortened 60-game season protesting racial inequality and police brutality against Black Americans.

“Right now, for Opening Day, most guys are going to have a different avenue,” Kemp said. “Some guys are going to have a piece of black cloth to show unity. Some guys might kneel. Some guys might have a black hat to hold over their heart. There will be something that will be shown on Opening Day and I plan on being a part of it. I feel like it’s one thing to talk about what you’re going to do but, if you don’t have any actions to go along with it, I don’t think it really means anything.

“I think that Black players will be participating in doing something on Opening Day, and it’s going to be unified. I’m excited to see it. “

The A’s have been supportive of Kemp’s +-1 Effect, a movement focused on changing minds about racism through conversation, one person at a time.

Kemp expects the same support from A’s teammates with whatever he chooses to do on Opening Day.

“I know that a lot of teammates will be supportive and have our backs with it,” Kemp said. “That’s important.”

Why ex-A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell rejected spring training return offer

Why ex-A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell rejected spring training return offer

Bruce Maxwell had a chance to return to MLB.

The former A's catcher -- who became a national symbol for the sport by being the first player to kneel during the national anthem -- was told Oakland wanted to bring him in this spring when the team's depth at the position appeared minimal.

But Maxwell turned down the offer, as he still feels the pain of seeing the reaction to his protest from around the baseball world. He felt the offer was a courtesy to his agent, former A's star and NBC Sports California analyst Dave Stewart.

"I didn't feel there was a real want for me," Maxwell says. "I told Dave, 'I don't want a job because you're my agent.' I didn't want to be a charity case. I think Dave thinks I made a mistake, and I respect that, but here's the real: I still had a lot of pent-up feelings about being there, and as I told Dave, I didn't want to mess up his reputation if I walked in there and couldn't make it work. I just kept asking myself if I wanted to be subjected to all that again, walking in there, with everyone wondering what my face meant and if they were going to judge me because I wasn't as cheerful as they wanted me to be, or they were just waiting to call me a failure if I didn't play well. I didn't need it. They did a favor for Dave."

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Stewart told ESPN he didn't agree with Maxwell, saying that the choice was all Maxwell's when it came to his return to MLB.

"Bruce couldn't get past his ego. That's why he's not in the major leagues," Stewart says. "I told him, 'You have to humble yourself sometime.' He wasn't willing to do that. I had to go back to the A's and tell them we weren't going to be able to work something out."

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A's executive vice president Billy Beane reflected on the opportunity, emphasizing that he's always had a soft spot for Maxwell.

"I certainly have a personal and professional relationship with Stew, and we have an affinity for Bruce because we drafted him," Beane says. "But this has always been who we are. We liked him as a player, and we've always been able to adjust to unique personalities. Would we do Stew a favor? Yes, he had a credit bank with us, but that's not why we did it. Bruce worked hard to be a major league-level player. He is a major league player, and Stew's right: We don't just hand out major league jobs."

The A's selected Maxwell in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft, going No. 62 overall. He began his protest near the end of 2017 and played one more season in Oakland before entering free agency in 2018. He's played the past two baseball seasons with Acereros de Monclova of the Mexican Baseball League. Maxwell slashed .240/.314/.347 with five home runs over 412 career MLB plate appearances with the A's.

Even in spite of the consequences, Maxwell sounds content with his choices.

"The last three years of my life have been hell. I lost my money, my job, my wife, and I've finally gotten to a place where I could figure myself out," he says. "When I came down here, all eyes were on me, without backlash. Honestly, I've never been happier. I busted my ass to become myself. I like myself now, and this opportunity here, nobody gave it to me. I earned it. I finally feel like I belong somewhere, and I cannot put that aside right now. My happiness makes me money, 'cause when I'm happy, nobody can touch me. People love me unconditionally down here, unlike in the States."

A's Mark Canha 'sometimes wishes he would've knelt' with Bruce Maxwell

A's Mark Canha 'sometimes wishes he would've knelt' with Bruce Maxwell

When A's catcher Bruce Maxwell knelt during the playing of the national anthem in 2017 to protest police brutality and institutional racism, outfielder Mark Canha was always there placing his hand on Maxwell's shoulder.

Canha admits he now wishes he would have joined his teammate in exercising his right to peaceful protest, following in the footsteps of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started taking a knee during the anthem in 2016.

"It was later in the season," Canha told Yahoo! Sports of Maxwell's decision to kneel. "I don't remember the political events that were happening at the time. I think it was right after the season where Colin Kaepernick was doing his thing and Bruce just sort of stood up in front of the team and said, 'Hey guys, I feel a certain way about the systematic injustice that happens in our country, specifically with what's going on with the police in the black communities and I'm going to kneel for the national anthem. If anyone wants to join me that's fine but if you don't that's fine too.' It was just a very open, mature thing that he just explained his reasoning for doing it.

"I kind of felt the same way as Bruce but I give credit to Bruce for having the courage to do it," Canha continued. "There's a lot of reasons I didn't kneel. Sometimes I wish that I had knelt. I'm unsure -- I don't think I would kneel this year. I just went up to the team and Bruce and said, 'Hey, I'm not really sure about kneeling but I want to support you and I want to put my hand on your shoulder when you're doing it.' He was cool with that and appreciative and said thank you. It was just every part of me was telling me that I need to be connected to this and I need to show my support and that it was important."

Canha was and is concerned about the ramifications players could face from the owners if they choose to kneel during the anthem but believes the concerns could easily be alleviated.

"I'd like to see ownership and stuff come out and address it directly, the kneeling that is," Canha said. "Just how they feel about it. Major League Baseball and certain teams have come out and voice their support against systematic injustice. Which is huge, that's awesome. But I think as long as nobody addresses the kneeling specifically there's going to be a question mark in players' heads of whether or not they are going to be scrutinized or blacklisted or blackballed or whatever you want to say by their teams."

Kaepernick's protest has gone back under the spotlight in the wake of global protests following the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, in Minneapolis police custody.

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As citizens continue to call for change, Canha would love to see more players taking a knee in baseball once they return to the field.

"Absolutely, I'd welcome it," Canha said. "This is a constitutional right we are talking about. We're talking about free speech, freedom to protest. This is absolutely something that cannot be discouraged or condemned. It's your constitutional right and you have every right to do so. I think we will look back at Bruce Maxwell and say he got a lot of criticism and blowback on social media and such and that was wrong."

Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since 2016. He opted out of his contract with the 49ers in 2017 after being told he would be released if he didn't do so. Kaepernick alleges the NFL blackballed him due to his protest. He settled a collusion lawsuit with the NFL last year.

Derek Chauvin, the white officer who knelt on Floyd's neck for over eight minutes after arresting him, has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers who were present at the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

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