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  • The mother of Oakland A's catcher Bruce Maxwell, the only MLB player to kneel during the anthem to protest racial injustice, speaks publicly for the first time about her son and his decision.
By Nancy Levine
October 03, 2017

On Saturday, September 23rd, Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to kneel during the national anthem. With a hand held to his heart, the 26 year-old rookie from a military family took a knee again on Sunday, and continued to do so for the the remainder of the season. After that first game, he told the San Francisco Chronicle:

“The point of my kneeling was not to disrespect our military or our constitution or our country. My hand was over my heart because I love this country and I have family members, including my father, who bled for this country, and who continue to serve. At the end of the day, this is the best country on the planet. I am and forever will be an American citizen and grateful to be here, but my kneeling is what’s getting the attention, and I’m kneeling for the people who don’t have a voice.

“This goes beyond the black and Hispanic communities because right now we have a racial divide that’s being practiced from the highest power we have in this country saying it’s basically OK to treat people differently. I’m kneeling for a cause but I’m in no way disrespecting my country or my flag.”

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Since taking a knee on Saturday, Maxwell has been the target of racial slurs and threats of violence. I attended last Sunday’s game in Oakland, holding a sign to show my support for him. Maxwell’s mother saw a news item picturing my sign and reached out to me.

She agreed to an interview on the condition that no identifying information would be published, and will be going by D.M., her initials during her first marriage.

Nancy Levine: Did you know this was coming? Did Bruce give you a heads up that this was going to happen?

DM: He did not, but I honestly feel that Bruce knew that I would support it—only because he never does anything off the cuff like that without thinking it through. I think he was most worried about his teammates and his management. Those were the ones that he needed the respect from. Because without them, how could he do what he’s doing, how could he play the game?

NL: Is it true he was born on a military base in Germany?

DM: Yes, he sure was. 

NL: And his grandfather was also a military person?

DM: Yes, his grandfather on his dad’s side was a retired lifetime military officer. There’s military on my side of the family also, though not the career type. My brother was in the military, and my father was in the military.  So he’s got military on both sides. 

NL: Bruce identifies as African-American?

DM: Yes. And Bruce’s grandmother on one side was Cherokee and his grandmother on the other side was Blackfoot Indian. So Bruce has a lot of mix in him.  Bruce is white, he’s black, he’s Native American.

NL: Do you identify as white?

DM:  Yes. My kids identify as black. They’re very proud.

NL: Bruce grew up in Alabama—how old was he when you moved there?

DM: He was just turning three when we moved there.

NL: Did you witness racism towards him? Was that part of your experience in Alabama?

DM: Outside the military, yes we did. When we were on the military base, and whenever we did something within the military community, no.  All relationships were very accepted, and we had a lot of military family around us. But when you went into certain parts of Alabama, it was very frowned upon.

NL: When you say “frowned upon,” do you mean as a mixed race couple?

DM: Yes, an inter-racial marriage, and then having biracial children. We would get the “looks.” You can feel it.

NL: When you moved to Alabama, you were still stationed on a military base?

DM: Yes, that’s why we moved to Alabama—because his dad got stationed at Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal.

NL: Bruce has such a clear voice. Did you see that when he was growing up?  Has he been like this since he was a kid?

DM: Bruce has always been very sensitive to the less fortunate. He has always been very protective of myself and his sisters. He and his sisters have been called names. His dad and I tried to teach them: When people say this to you, it’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s about them feeling threatened, it’s about them not understanding. You need to open up and try to understand. Say, “What is it about this, what is it about me that you’re having an issue with? Make me understand.” Bruce learned, as the youngest, how to deal with things.  But he’s always been really protective. Especially of those that can’t speak for themselves. He doesn’t like bullying at all. His heart is honestly as big as Texas.

NL: I know you went through something enormously difficult with the backlash towards him. Can you describe that?  Have you been upset about the threats?

DM: It’s a mother’s fear. You’re proud of your children, but yet you’re so fearful of the unknown, and the people of this world—the people you have no control of, and what they’re going to do. When I knew Bruce was going to be playing [last week], I didn’t know what he was going to come upon, and it made me very fearful as a mother. He always wants to say: “You know, Mom, I’m good, I’m strong, you brought me up right.” I know. But there are certain things that mothers cannot control. And those people that you don’t know, those people in society that just are not seeing the real picture—and those people that are so critical at this point in time. They have not looked any further than face value—and this goes so much deeper than that.

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NL: Has he reassured you?

DM: Yes. My kids are always reassuring. I check in with my daughters every day, and I’ve asked them: So how many people, how many friends have you lost since all of this has come out? This shows who you truly are—a make you or break you type thing—it’ll either make you look at someone differently or embrace that person more. Bruce is like, “Mom, I’m incredibly busy.”

NL: What did he say when you last spoke?

DM: He had just gotten to the locker room, and he kind of reassured me of some things and told me a couple of things. One of his sisters had gotten some … he was just telling me to be careful.

NL: As a mother you have a unique perspective—something we all can relate to. We’re all united in our humanity. We’re all mothers or have mothers.

DM: Because you’re talking about someone’s child. Oh my God, do people not think about that?

NL: Have you engaged with any of Bruce’s critics online?

DM: Someone on Facebook posted, “Some of these ingrates that kneel at the national anthem.” I said, “Are you calling my son an ingrate?”  And he responded, “I’m sorry, I don’t know who your son is.” He quickly quieted down when I showed him Bruce’s story. He didn’t say another word after that.

NL: I know you were nervous before last night’s game. Did you see the whole marching band kneel?

DM: It wasn’t on where I live, but I got to see a repeat of it. I thought that was pretty awesome.

NL: Were you nervous right up till game time?

DM: Oh yeah. I was watching every ball he caught and every move. I knew everyone was just waiting for something to say—the critics were waiting for something to criticize him about.

NL: Was it a turning point for you when he came up and got a big standing ovation?

DM: I cried even more. It was just one of those things that—oh my gosh. People know that he’s a good guy. Bruce is one of the most giving people. I could exhale from the fan point of view. But you’re still kind of on edge with all the other things.  Because you know, you can’t control the people outside.

NL: What’s your opinion, in general, of the movement of athletes taking a knee?

DM: I think you can’t speak for everyone. Everyone has their own viewpoint, and everyone has their own story.  Everyone has their own reason to do what they’re doing—and all I can do is support Bruce for his reasoning. Because I know what he has gone through, and I know how he feels. I know this was a long time coming, but I think the turning point for him was when the president was in his hometown. 

NL: In Alabama?

DM: Yes. And he blasted off the words that he did.

NL: The “son of a bitch”?

DM: Yes. That was a turning point. This hits home now. And being discriminated against the way Bruce and his sisters were when they were growing up. Or being threatened. I can only speak of his story. His dad and I brought them up to see people for people, to see their hearts and not to see the color of their skin and not to see the money they have in the bank. It’s about the person they are on the inside. We don’t want them judging people. That’s not the type of world we wanted, not the type of kids we wanted.

NL: What would you say to other mothers who are his critics?

DM: I would say probably: Why are you being this way? What is it that you don’t understand? 

NL: They say Bruce is disrespecting the flag. I think Bruce has been very clear and articulate that it’s not about disrespect.

DM: It’s not about the flag at all. Bruce has the utmost respect for our country and our flag. That tells me that those people who say that have not read anything that he has said. I would say, “You need to read this, because it has nothing to do with disrespect.”

NL: He has been clear about deeply respecting the military and the flag.

DM: And he’s someone’s child. He’s still someone’s child.  I just don’t understand how people are so closed off … If he’s made to bridge some gap, then I’m all for that because he is very good with people. He loves kids, he’s all about being together and unity, and if this is something that he’s about, he can help with this somehow, some way. I truly believe the negative way people think is taught early on. I tried to get my kids to think from a different perspective. I want them to not be afraid to speak their minds, but be respectful when they do it. I want them to know that they are valued as people, that their opinions matter. I want them to protect and speak up for those who cannot do it for themselves. What kind of people would they be if they wouldn’t do that when they could? 

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