Major League Baseball may not have been the first sport to see its players come together and decide to boycott games to draw attention to racial discrimination in the U.S., but Nationals closer Sean Doolittle is proud of the actions his fellow players took this week following the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“I think they were really powerful and I was really proud to see the guys in our league take a stand and I think that solidarity from other players and other teams around our league is so important,” Doolittle said in a Zoom press conference Saturday.
The veteran left-hander hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 10, rehabbing his right knee after a disappointing start to the season.
Doolittle had just been activated from the injured list when the Milwaukee Bucks announced they would not be taking the court for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic. Their counterparts in MLB, the Milwaukee Brewers, followed suit. Ten other games would be postponed as well over the next 36 hours, including the Nationals’ contest against the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday night.
“Yes, baseball is important to us,” Doolittle said. “It’s our job and it’s how we make a living and we love bringing that to the fans, but there are important things than baseball happening in our world right now and we want to take a step away from the field just for a day so that people can focus on what is happening in Kenosha and what is happening in so many communities around our country when it comes to issues of racism and police brutality.”
Though the boycotts were not league-wide, Doolittle saw players across MLB take a united stand in a way he had never seen before. The New York Mets and Miami Marlins went further by taking the field only for a 42-second moment of silence – in honor of Jackie Robinson – before departing the stadium together. When they cleared out, the only thing left on the field was a Black Lives Matter shirt sitting over home plate.
“Sometimes sports are a healthy distraction,” Doolittle said. “Sometimes, I think in this instance, players felt that it was more important to step away so that there were no distractions, so that there were less other things happening and that people could spend some time thinking about this – thinking about why we’re not playing, thinking about what’s happening. So I thought it was really powerful and I was really encouraged to see that solidarity from teams and from players around our league – not just standing with our guys in the Major League Baseball but also with athletes and teams in other sports as well.”
Following MLB’s historic demonstration, the league celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on Friday by having every player wear a No. 42 jersey, just as it has every year since 2004. The Nationals have since elected to wear them for the rest of the weekend.
“Baseball is finding its voice,” Doolittle said. “There are players in this game that are helping the sport find their voice…I think we saw some really, really powerful stuff in our sport this week.”