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Baltimore Orioles star outfielder Adam Jones told Bob Nightengale of USA Today the reason MLB players haven’t protested police brutality and the unfair treatment of African-Americans during the national anthem—a trend started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sat before a preseason game. Because “baseball is a white man’s sport.”
“We already have two strikes against us already, so you might as well not kick yourself out of the game,” he said Monday. “In football, you can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don’t need us.”
Statistically, Jones’ assessment holds up. As Nightengale wrote, “African-Americans comprise 68 percent of the player population in the NFL and 74 percent in the NBA. That number is just eight percent in baseball, with only 69 African-Americans on the Opening Day rosters and disabled lists this season.”
Nightengale noted the decision to sit during the national anthem would put an MLB player under a more intense spotlight, as he would be choosing to sit 162 times over the course of the season rather than once per week for 16 weeks like an NFL player.
So Jones has chosen to stand for the anthem. He vigorously defended Kaepernick’s particular form of protest, however:
He believes in what he believes in, and as a man of faith, as an American who has rights, who am I to say he’s wrong? Kaepernick is not disrespecting the military. He’s not disrespecting people who they’re fighting. What he’s doing is showing that he doesn’t like the social injustice that the flag represents. Look, I know a lot of people who don’t even know the words to the national anthem. You know how many times I see people stand up for the national anthem and not pay attention. They stand because they’re told to stand. That’s the problem. Just don’t do something because you’re told to do something. Do it because you understand the meaning behind it and the sacrifice behind it.
He also suggested people hold African-American athletes to a different standard when they speak out against the status quo.
“I’ve seen Kaepernick called the N-word just because he’s being sensitive to what has happened to African-Americans in this country,” he said. “It’s crazy how when people of color speak up, we’re always ridiculed. But when people that are not of color speak up, it’s their right.”
On top of that, Jones feels that many fans don’t want athletes to express an opinion unless it relates to sports.
“The outside world doesn’t really respect athletes unless they talk about what they want them to talk about,” he noted. “Society doesn’t think we deserve the right to have an opinion on social issues. We make a lot of money, so we just have to talk baseball, talk football.”
Indeed, many athletes and sportswriters are told to “stick to sports” with such regularity when they talk about non-sports issues that it has practically become a meme on Twitter.
Jones has done well this season when he’s “stuck to sports.” He’s hitting .281 with 27 home runs and 80 RBI. It’s his sixth straight season with 25 or more home runs, and he’s leading an Orioles team that is battling for a postseason berth.
But while what happens on the field is important to Jones, he recognizes the stakes of Kaepernick’s protest—and the implications of the response to it—run far deeper than the results of a game.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t respect his freedoms, then why the hell are we Americans?” Jones asked. “It’s supposed to be the Land of the Free, right?”
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