How the Yankees' Demonstration of Unity – Kneeling Before National Anthem on Opening Day – Came to Be

Max Goodman

It was a powerful moment weeks in the making.

After taking batting practice in Black Lives Matter T-shirts — preparing to take the field for Opening Day at Nationals Park — the Yankees knelt in unison, observing a prolonged moment of silence prior to the national anthem.

As all 35 players and coaches in New York's road gray uniform went down to one knee, standing socially distanced down the left-field line, each and every member of the Washington Nationals knelt down as well.

It was part of a touching, coordinated ceremony designed to "show unity" and bring attention to racial injustice.

"When we met last night as a team, this is what we decided as a group and it was very much driven by the players," Yankees' manager Aaron Boone explained after New York's 4-1 victory. "I was proud of the way they handled themselves and I thought it was a great way of demonstrating while also being mindful and respectful of a lot of other people's feelings on the matter."

The pregame demonstration wasn't limited to taking a knee. Both the Yankees and Nationals held a 200-yard black "unity ribbon," a message of equality and empathy was read by actor Morgan Freeman and a video from The Players Alliance — including appearances from the likes of Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and recently retired CC Sabathia — was shown on the Jumbotron.

In Stanton's eyes, kneeling before the anthem was the best way to show unity. With all aspects of the demonstration considered — as well as uniform patches reading "United for Change" and "Black Lives Matter" — the slugger believed that taking a knee during the anthem wasn't necessary.

"I just thought it'd be a good idea and pretty powerful to have everyone kneel at the same time," the designated hitter said. "Just to give hope and for any overall reason you want to do it. For me, it's for racial justice and Black lives in general."

READ: Stanton Makes Opening Day Statement, Powering Yankees to Victory

Stanton and his teammates had alluded to a demonstration being in the works earlier this week following a peaceful protest by members of the San Francisco Giants, including manager Gabe Kapler. 

Several other ballplayers across Major League Baseball, including Los Angeles Dodgers' star Mookie Betts, knelt while the national anthem played on Opening Day.

"It wasn't to combat anything, it wasn't to stand out and do something separate or anything else [other] than to bring unity and bring all for the same cause," Stanton said.

Judge had previously called the ability to speak out for something he believes in "the beauty of America," articulating his support for those who do choose to kneel during the anthem. 

The slugger recalled having tough conversations with his teammates and peers in the wake of George Floyd's death in late-May — sparking protests and unrest across the nation. Those discussions, he said, were able to get the message out and produce further dialogues across Major League Baseball in regards to unification and racial injustice.

"We got a lot of guys in this clubhouse with different beliefs, different feelings and different walks of life and where they're from different countries," Judge explained. "We wanted to respect all that and as a team we came to the united decision to kneel right before the anthem."

All in all, Judge called Thursday's demonstration a "small step" on a long road ahead. He forecasted that the unity on full display in Washington D.C. on Opening Day, and across the league, won't be going away any time soon.

"We're united there's a lot of injustice in this world and a lot of bad things going on so we just want to show that we're aware of it."

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