George Floyd

How Ian Desmond 'stepped up big' by stepping away from 2020 MLB season

How Ian Desmond 'stepped up big' by stepping away from 2020 MLB season

Programming note: Watch "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on NBC Sports Bay Area on Friday, July 3 at 8 p.m.

Ian Desmond has bigger things on his mind than playing professional baseball, yet he's not turning his back on the sport.

The Colorado Rockies outfielder announced Monday on Instagram that he won't play in MLB's shortened season amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Desmond instead will remain in Sarasota, Florida with his pregnant wife and four kids, working to get local youth baseball "back on track." The 34-year-old, who is biracial, said the fields he grew up playing on suffered from years of neglect, exemplifying baseball's inaccessibility reflective of societal inequality.

"Why can't we support teaching the game to all kids -- but especially those in underprivileged communities?'' Desmond wrote. "Why aren't accessible, affordable youth sports viewed as an essential opportunity to affect kids' development, as opposed to money-making propositions and recruiting chances? It's hard to wrap your head around it.''

Desmond is stepping away from MLB to do the kind of work that Dave Stewart is innately familiar with. Stewart, a former A's pitcher and current NBC Sports California analyst, has worked extensively to help children in underserved communities. The A's community service award is named for him as a result of that work. 

Stewart, who is Black, believes Desmond is rising to the occasion in a way that this moment requires.

"I said, 'Man, this brother stepped up.' " Stewart said on "Race In America: A Candid Conversation," which airs Friday at 8 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

"It's the first thing I thought of. He stepped up, he stepped up big. He had things that obviously had been bothering him for a long period of time. He voiced the things that were bothering him, he voiced the things he thought needed to be addressed in baseball, but he also made baseball aware and the world aware that if I read it right, he's got a baby on the way, he's got children at home, I'd much rather be safe spending time with my family teaching these kids how to play the game. And in the meantime, baseball handle your business is the way I took it. Baseball, handle your business."

[RACE IN AMERICA: Listen to the latest episode]

Desmond said some of his formative memories occurred on the fields he's trying to revitalize, but they weren't all happy. He wrote that he "never felt fully immersed in Black culture" growing up with a white mother, but still identified as Black when asked because of the prejudice he experienced. Desmond recalled his high-school teammates chanting "White Power" before a game, and his eventual grade-school classmates needed to be told in a school-wide meeting that he was enrolling.

In the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody last month, Desmond felt he could be silent no longer. He pointed to MLB's distinct lack of Black owners, front-office executives and managers, noting that about 8 percent of players are African American while racist, homophobic and sexist jokes are all-too-normal in clubhouses and unwritten rules that aim to create conformity all-too-often stifle Black players from being themselves.

MLB has "a minority issue from the top down," Desmond wrote, and former A's pitcher Edwin Jackson said it was "empowering" to see his one-time teammate address it.

"That's something we love to see," said Jackson, who played with Desmond on the Washington Nationals in 2012. "That's something that is sad that we had to suppress those feelings for so long from being afraid to speak up. For him to be able to speak up now and not be afraid anymore, I love to see that. I love to see that, and I wish we could have that for more people. It's brave. It takes a lot to do, to express your feelings to the world about how you feel, it takes a lot to do that."

[RELATED: Colin Kaepernick, Nate Boyer helped enact real change with discussion]

Jackson said he spoke with Desmond about the decision, and that it's very reflective of his former teammate's overriding feeling.

Desmond simply has had enough.

"He wants to express himself and show you his values, what he values and the order he has his values in," Jackson said. "His family comes before the game. His life comes before the game. It shows that he's put a lot of his emotions on the back burner because of baseball. He's tired of it, he's switching roles. He's putting his family first and he's putting himself first, beyond the sport that we play."

Colin Kaepernick, Nate Boyer helped enact real change with discussion

Colin Kaepernick, Nate Boyer helped enact real change with discussion

Programming note: Watch the full interview with Nate Boyer and Charles Woodson on tonight’s episode of “Race In America: A Candid Conversation” on NBC Sports Bay Area at 8 p.m., hosted by Monte Poole and Logan Murdock.

Just before the 49ers' penultimate preseason game of 2016, quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench as the National Anthem played at Levi's Stadium. Following the game, he explained the gesture was a protest against police brutality. 
 
It wasn't Kaepernick's first foray into activism. He was inspired to protest by the murder of Mario Woods, who was killed by San Francisco police after an alleged stabbing in 2015. But this was the first time he used the NFL's platform to convey his message and the response was mixed. While he got some support, many league faces like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees criticized the protest, saying it disrespected the military. Others, like President Donald Trump, later offered the same refrain. 
 
Former NFL long snapper Nate Boyer harbored similar feelings. Inspired to join the military after the Sept. 11th attacks, later becoming a Green Beret. Boyer, a white male, saw the flag as a symbol of his fallen comrades in the line of duty. But instead of openly criticizing Kaepernick, he sought to understand his point of view. 

"That really hurt me," Boyer said. "But I also was like, "All right, don't just react because of your emotions."

The two met days after Kaepernick's initial protest, just before the 49ers' preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers. In the hotel lobby, Boyer told Kaepernick about his experiences with the flag. About the time he brought one of his best friends home in a casket draped with the flag. How standing for the anthem meant he was in solidarity with his fallen soldiers. But Kaepernick had a different take on the anthem and how the lyrics "liberty and justice for all" didn't always apply to Black people. At the end of the meeting, Kaepernick asked Boyer a question.

"Nate, do you think there's another way I could demonstrate or protest that won't offend people in the military?"

Boyer suggested Kaepernick kneel for the anthem and the quarterback agreed. However, despite Boyer's recommendation, Kaepernick's biggest detractors maintained the talking point that the QB's new method of protest was disrespectful to anyone that had served. The stubbornness showed that even when a person's message is crystal clear, critics will use talking points to dilute it, instead of talking things out to enact real change. 

[RACE IN AMERICA: Listen to the latest episode]

While Kaepernick was settling into a new form of protest, former Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson was starting his post-playing career in broadcasting at ESPN. He had experienced racism during his youth. 

"I remember one time in probably middle school where we got into it with some folks down the street from my house, and the police rode up on us, man, into our neighborhood and cop has his gun out," Woodson recalled. "He's shaking like a leaf. I'm sitting there standing still and I'm talking to the officer. It's almost as if I'm trying to talk him down, but I'm like, "Hey, man, I'm not moving. I see you shaking, man. I'm not moving, and I'm not going to move."
 
As Kaepernick remained steadfast in his decision to kneel, Woodson noticed the message behind it continued to be distorted by those criticizing him. 
 
"People put him on opposite sides of the flag, and that's the way it was presented," Woodson explained. "This is Colin Kaepernick. He's protesting against America. Maybe he doesn't want to be here. He doesn't respect our military. He doesn't respect the flag. And it's like the entire message that he put forth just went right over everyone's head."
 
Kaepernick kept kneeling and the criticism kept coming, even as police kept killing citizens. Trump continued his verbal onslaught, tweeting players should be "fired" for kneeling. At a rally in Alabama, Trump used inflammatory language in arguing that owners should discipline players who kneeled during the anthem.
 
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b---h off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired! You know, some owner is gonna do that."
 
All the while police kept killing unarmed Black people. In 2018, Stephon Clarke was killed by Sacramento authorities in his backyard. Police shot 20 rounds, thinking Clarke had a gun. Following the shooting, only a cell phone was recovered on Clarke's person. More disturbing, both police officers involved were cleared of all charges. 
 
Nearly two years later, George Floyd -- a 46-year-old Black man -- died after fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin -- a white man -- pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded, "I can't breathe." Floyd was detained after a store owner alleged he used a counterfeit $20 bill. Police also initially alleged he resisted arrest, but nearby surveillance footage disputed those claims. Since Floyd's death, protests have sprouted around the globe, including Germany and Australia.
 
As the protests grew in numbers, Kaepernick's name was brought up again, only now with much more reverence. Numerous athletes began plotting out similar protests when their respective sports returned from the coronavirus-inflicted hiatuses. Nonetheless, Brees was still among those pushing back with similar rhetoric, criticizing the form of protest while continuing to miss the point.

[RELATED: Kap, others who didn't vote in 2016 election must do so now]
 
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees told Yahoo Finance earlier this month. "I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II -- one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps, both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place. … Is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together.”
 
This time, however, it was Brees catching the brunt of the criticism, with pundits and players alike reminding him why Kaepernick protested in the first place. But therein lies the problem in today's world. Folks tend to stick to talking points instead of conversing with one another to enact real change. Instead, more should take the route of Boyer and try to understand what the historically-disenfranchised race has been going through for centuries. Maybe then, we can see real change.
 
"People are kind of gravitating towards one side of an issue or another side of an issue, and not really wanting to hear the other side's opinion or consider the other side's perspective as being valid," Boyer said. "Which is very unhealthy and dangerous."

Warriors' Klay Thompson makes plea for justice for Elijah McClain

Warriors' Klay Thompson makes plea for justice for Elijah McClain

Klay Thompson called for justice for Elijah McClain Wednesday night in an Instagram post.

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Elijah McCain, A gentle soul who played violin to lonely kittens in his spare time. Was murdered by Aurora CO police officers ( who still roam free ) for looking “suspicious” on his way home from the convenient store. Now remember, this is the same police force that apprehended James Holmes after slaying 12 people and injuring 70 others at an Aurora movie theatre midnight screening. They subdued him without a scratch on his body. There is no debate that men , woman and children of color are “policed” to a much harsher and catastrophic standard than white america . Waking up to the news of another murder of an unarmed brother, sister, mother, father or friend is so mentally draining and demoralizing and sometimes feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. But there is ✨....it will take so much work and effort from conscious citizens across the globe. So many institutions need restructuring ( voting rights, police procedures , minority representation in politics ) Let’s help bring justice to Elijah and his family. As well as so many others who will never be forgotten and rest in power Follow @grassrootslaw to see how we can all impact real change

A post shared by Klay Thompson (@klaythompson) on

McClain was a 23-year-old Black man who was killed in Aurora, Colorado police custody on August 24, 2019. McClain was stopped by three white officers as he walked home from a convenience store after a 911 call alleged there was a suspicious person in the area. According to police reports, a struggle ensued after McClain resisted officer contact. According to CNN, McClain can be heard telling the officers, "I'm an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking," through their body cameras. The footage then shows McClain telling the officers he was trying to stop his music so that he could listen to them.

One of the officers then can be heard saying, " "He just grabbed your gun, dude," according to CNN.

The officers then wrestled McClain to the ground and at one point one of the officers threatens to sick a dog on McClain, per CNN.

The officers then place McClain in a chokehold and he loses consciousness. According to the report, they released the hold and the struggle resumed. When paramedics arrived on the scene, they gave him some ketamine to sedate him. McClain suffered a heart attack while in the ambulance and was pronounced brain dead three days later, the district attorney claims.

The coroner's report did not list a cause of death, but labeled intense physical exertion and a narrow coronary artery as factors. The district attorney declined to press charges at the time of McClain's death.

Thompson's plea for justice came Wednesday as a massive social media outcry asks for the Colorado government to re-open the case and prosecute the officers involved in McClain's death.

On Thursday, Colorado governor Jared Polis announced that his administration will reexamine the case.

The call to reopen McClain's case comes in the wake of widespread protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement across the country and around the world following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man was killed in police custody when Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck of almost nine minutes.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman was shot and killed by Louisville police who were serving a no-knock warrant in March, which allows police to enter without knocking or identifying themselves. The warrant was signed because the police believed someone had received drugs at Taylor's house. No drugs were found on the scene. While police claim they knocked and identified themselves before Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker started shooting at them, Walker disputes the claim and said he only started shooting once the police entered without identifying themselves as he feared for his life. One of the officers has been fired for blindly firing 10 rounds through the patio door, while the others have been placed on administrative reassignment.

The F.B.I is investigating the case.

Arbery was an unarmed 25-year-old Black man who was chased, shot and killed by three men while jogging near his home in Georgia. It took a New York Times article, video of the confrontation and calls from activists and celebrities for the three men to finally be arrested months after Arbery's murder.

[RELATED: Warriors' Collins reveals best part of coaching Klay]

Thompson recently took part in a peaceful protest in Oakland that was organized by teammate Juan-Toscano Anderson. Steph curry also took part in the protest and took his daughter, Riley, to a protest in Palo Alto.

Over 2 million people signed the petition to reopen McClain's case. The city of Aurora is planning to have its own independent investigation of McClain's death.

The officers were placed on administrative leave but were reinstated once the district attorney declined to press charges.

Last week, Gov. Polis signed a new police accountability bill into law that bans chokeholds and other dangerous tactics.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]