BUFFALO — Jackie Bradley Jr. has taken a knee during the national anthem before most of the games the Red Sox have played this season. Alex Verdugo joined him on Opening Day, but beyond that, the only public sign of support has been an occasional hand on his shoulder.
That all changed on Thursday.
Bradley decided early in the day that he would sit out the game against the Toronto Blue Jays, joining the dozens of baseball, basketball, and soccer players who did that Wednesday night to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
He spoke to manager Ron Roenicke and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom about his decision and informed his teammates.
Bradley might have done that on Wednesday night, but he wasn’t aware that three other games around baseball had been shut down until just before he took the field.
As the Sox were playing, his friend, Mookie Betts, was in San Francisco standing shoulder to shoulder with manager Dave Roberts, and teammates Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jensen, explaining why he didn’t play.
“Once Mookie said that he wasn’t going to play that really started our conversation as a team as to what we can do to support that,” Kershaw said. “We felt the best thing to do was support that by not playing with him . . . we wanted to do the right thing as a team.”
That Kershaw, an accomplished white player, was so quick and unreserved in throwing his support to Betts was equally important. Systemic racism in America won’t end until everybody speaks up. Betts said it was a day he would never forget.
Meanwhile, Bradley spoke to reporters alone after the game ended. He took questions about the protests elsewhere, and his thoughts on the issue of police brutality.
“I think voices are being heard. Hopefully changes are being made,” he said. “We just have to continue to grow, continue to push forward. We’ve got to be better as individuals and together as well.”
It’s unfortunate that it falls on Bradley to give the Black perspective on social issues. But once Betts and David Price were traded, Bradley became the lone Black player on the roster.
“I have support. It’s not difficult for me to address,” he said. “I am the only Black person on this team. I feel it’s my responsibility to address it in certain situations so that people can see what I feel and the things that I think about. I can take it on.”
But when Bradley took it on again Thursday, his teammates were there to help. Bradley offered them a free pass, saying he’d understand if they went ahead and played. But the Sox met at 4 p.m. and decided to essentially go on strike for a day and add their voices to the movement.
The Blue Jays, who voted to play, quickly lent their support.
Bradley didn’t speak to reporters on Thursday. Teammates Xander Bogaerts, Nate Eovaldi, and Kevin Pillar did. They took on the task of explaining why this is an important issue within baseball and society.
“For us, it’s coming together,” Eovaldi said. “We’re playing a game. We’re on the same team and everything, but we’re a family. I think it comes down to the brotherhood and things like that. I want to be there and support Jackie.”
Bogaerts has known Bradley since 2011. They both debuted in the majors in 2013 and have shared a wealth of experiences since, good and bad.
“I believe it’s a huge thing that we did for him,” Bogaerts said. “Being by his side today, coming out as a group supporting him by not playing. . . . I think this really shows how much we care about him and the team.”
That 10 MLB games weren’t played in the last two days as a form of social protest was significant. Baseball all too often pays tribute to Jackie Robinson without actually living up to his ideals.
Robinson was a passionate advocate for equality. Wearing his No. 42 is symbolic. Sitting out a game is taking action.
Roenicke had a good answer about how that can make a difference.
“If you’re a kid and you turn on the TV tonight and don’t see that we’re playing, and you ask your parents, ‘Why aren’t the Red Sox playing?’ I hope the parents have a serious discussion with their kids and tell them what’s going on and explain what’s going on. Because we need to discuss these things more we need to listen more.
“That’s the only way that we’re going to change.”