That the protests sweeping sports have swept their way into Major League Baseball says something.
The major leagues are not the NBA, not the WNBA, not the NFL, in terms of the racial, geographic and political makeup of the player population. As surprising and powerful as the protests that brought the NBA and WNBA to a halt were, there was something even more unlikely about them reaching baseball, with six entire teams and individual players across the game sitting out Wednesday in protest of racial injustice and police brutality against Black Americans in the United States after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Those mass protests continued Thursday, with even more teams not playing and others considering similar action.
On the South Side, the White Sox have not yet had an opportunity to take such collective action, if that is something they’re interested in doing. They wrapped up their day game against the Pittsburgh Pirates before the protests came to baseball Wednesday, and they had an off day Thursday. Their first opportunity would be Friday night’s scheduled series-opener against the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field. Friday, the league plans to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, which it typical does in April but moved to August in this pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
The White Sox are indeed taking notice, with Lucas Giolito, just two days removed from grabbing hold of baseball’s national spotlight with his no-hitter against the Pirates, saying Thursday that the team’s players would discuss whether or not to take their own action Friday.
In the meantime, Giolito, who has been outspoken on these matters since earlier this year, when he voiced his support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, applauds the action taken by players across the game.
“I think that it's a good step,” he said. “Historically, baseball — it's hard to put into words — but it's almost as if you wouldn't expect baseball players to participate in something like that. Usually, it's like, ‘Keep your head down and play the game and do what you do.’
“But, and I'm going to sound like a broken record, but players are people, too, human beings.
“I happened to watch the press conference of Mets player Dom Smith, who I know personally, and watching him up there talk about his experience, get emotional, it made me emotional. Because that's a player that I respect. That's someone I've known for a long time. And it's just really sad to see that he's just one example of so many people in this country that are not being treated fairly.”
“It does give me hope seeing baseball players speaking up, standing up,” Giolito continued. “But I think that there's a lot more that needs to be done.”
Before the season started, when players and the league, as a whole, discussed action to take in the wake of Floyd’s murder, Giolito spoke about his belief that athletes can and should use their platform as visible figures to speak out for what’s right.
Giolito was one of several White Sox players and coaches who took a knee during the national anthem on Opening Day, the same act of protest Colin Kaepernick did in the NFL years earlier when protesting police brutality.
“I think there are a lot of people around the country that are on board and do believe in changing things,” Giolito said. “You've seen protests going around the country for the last few months. Maybe there's something about the spotlight being on athletes, obviously, when we're on the field, on the court or whatever it is, being able to utilize that to bring awareness to real stuff that's going on.
“Colin Kaepernick, when he decided to kneel a few years ago, that kind of took the country by storm. Everybody was talking about it. Now we're seeing other athletes kind of catching on and using their voice, their actions to express how they feel. And it's continuing to blow up and bring awareness.
“Sports, politics, all that stuff. Despite people, how they feel about it, like, ‘Oh, I want to keep it separate.’ Well that stuff's been there for years and years and years.”
Athletes are now bringing the push for racial justice to the court, to the field and to the screens of every fan across the country. They obviously aren't alone, as Americans have spent months protesting, trying to create change. But these sports stars are using their everyday visibility to spread the message further, to an audience that might not have been reached previously. To the entirety of the baseball audience.
And Giolito's voice is a part of that chorus.
“What went down with Jacob Blake, in my mind, that's unacceptable. That shouldn't be happening in a developed country,” he said. “A man getting shot seven times in his back, that just shouldn't happen. I don't see why that's something that happened, why it has consistently been happening for a long time.
“You see what's going on, athletes continuing to use their voice to speak up, whether that just be in an interview or with what we see going on with players boycotting, or whatever you want to call it, not just in the NBA and WNBA, but now it's creeping into MLB and even further.
“It's part of a bunch of people saying enough's enough, that this isn't something that should continue to go on in this country.”