Tony La Russa on Players Kneeling: 'Not Only Do I Respect, But I Applaud the Awareness'

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Following his introduction as the new manager of the White Sox, Tony La Russa addressed his controversial 2016 comments about athletes kneeling during the playing of the national anthem.

"I know in 2016 when the first issue occurred, my initial instincts were all about respecting the flag and the anthem and what America stands for. There's been a lot that's [gone] on in a very healthy way since 2016, and not only do I respect but I applaud the awareness that's come into not just society, but especially in sports.

"If you talk about specifically baseball, I applaud and would support the fact that they are now addressing [and] identifying the injustices, especially on the racial side."

La Russa, who retired from the Cardinals in 2011, gained attention in 2016 for the remarks after he questioned the sincerity of then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the anthem. 

When asked in 2016 during a Sports Illustrated interview how he would handle a player taking a knee, La Russa said he would not support it.

"I know that there's a constitutional right to express yourself, but I think you have a right as an organization to have a certain philosophy about respecting, whether it's our Constitution, whether it's our country, whether it's our soldiers...our flag," La Russa said. "I would not, to the best of my ability, I would not sanction somebody taking a knee.

"I think that's disrespectful, and I really question the sincerity of somebody like Kaepernick. I remember when he was on top. I never heard him talk about anything but himself. Now all of a sudden he's struggling for attention and he makes this big pitch. I don't buy it. And even if he was sincere, there are other ways to show your concern. Disrespecting our flag is not the way to do it."

During a 2016 ESPN radio interview, La Russa shared a similar sentiment when he was questioned about Orioles outfielder Adam Jones saying he was disappointed by the lack of protests in baseball.

"You're not going to be out there representing our team and our organization by disrespecting the flag," he said. "No, sir, I would not allow it. …If you want to make your statement you make it in the clubhouse, but not out there, you’re not going to show it that way publicly and disrespectfully."

Several members of the White Sox have been outspoken this season during a time of heightened national focus on social justice. Eight players and coaches, including Tim Anderson, José Abreu, Edwin Encarnación, Eloy Jiménez and Lucas Giolito, knelt during the national anthem prior to the club's Opening Day game against the Twins. 

With La Russa returning to the White Sox, it would appear to be imperative for him to show support for his players' voices. The 76-year-old Hall of Famer has not managed since he retired from the Cardinals in 2011, and baseball has slowly made more efforts to embrace players protesting social justice and racial inequality since then.