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Ravens and Orioles move to the forefront as anti-racism protests sweep American sports for a second day

Baltimore Orioles players Dillon Tate and Alex Cobb discuss the postponement of the game against the Rays.

As much of the American sports landscape paused again Thursday to demand justice in the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, Baltimore teams stepped to the forefront, with the Orioles deciding not to play their game against the Tampa Bay Rays and the Ravens issuing a detailed statement calling for the arrests of officers responsible for Blake’s shooting and the death of Breonna Taylor.

Though both teams previously issued statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and donated money to social justice causes, Thursday’s actions represented bold steps forward in embracing political activism.

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The Ravens, in particular, moved more aggressively than any other National Football League franchise. The team practiced at 9 a.m. but then called off afternoon meetings so players and coaches could gather to discuss a response to Sunday’s shooting of Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At 6:31 p.m., the Ravens issued a statement demanding seven specific actions to combat systemic racism.

In addition to arresting the officers involved in the Blake and Taylor cases, these included calls for revised standards in policing, for fair and equitable prison sentencing, for U.S. Senate action on police reform and for local and national voter registration drives.

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“With yet another example of racial discrimination with the shooting of Jacob Blake, and the unlawful abuse of peaceful protesters, we MUST unify as a society,” the statement read. “It is imperative that all people — regardless of race, religion, creed or belief — come together to say, ‘Enough is enough!’

“This is bigger than sports. Racism is embedded in the fabric of our nation’s foundation and is a blemish on our country’s history. If we are to change course and make our world a better place, we must face this problem head-on and act now to enact positive change.”

Players offered their own exhortations on social media.

“We want real change!” defensive end Calais Campbell wrote on Twitter. “And we want it now!”

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The Orioles, meanwhile, appeared set to play their game against the Rays until shortly before the scheduled first pitch at 6:40 p.m. Then, sparked by conversations between players before the game, both teams decided not to proceed, even though games were underway in several other cities.

“After continued reflection and further dialogue, Orioles players have decided not to play tonight’s game against the Rays as they join athletes around the country in expressing solidarity with the victims of social injustice and systemic racism,” the team said in a statement.

After an earlier meeting in which Orioles players initially voted to play, manager Brandon Hyde said there are “so many more important things that are happening besides our game right now.”

Six other Major League Baseball games were postponed as of early Thursday evening.

Orioles rookie reliever Dillon Tate, who is Black, said the team hoped the message people took from the team’s decision was that “we all bleed the same blood, we are all one, and we’re all the same, and we’re all just trying to come together right now.”

Baltimore’s teams acted a day after National Basketball Association players brought their playoff schedule in Orlando to a halt as they called for justice in the Blake case and for broader efforts to combat racial inequality. The NBA again postponed its scheduled playoff games Thursday, though ESPN reported that players had voted to resume play at an unspecified point. The WNBA also postponed its Thursday games.

The National Hockey League suspended its scheduled playoff games Thursday and Friday after facing initial criticism for a more tepid response that was limited to anti-racism messages. The league promised to “use our sport to influence positive change in society” and to “foster more inclusive and welcoming environments within our arenas, offices and beyond.”

The NFL’s response was mixed, with some teams postponing practices while others carried on.

The league and its players union issued a joint statement: “The NFL community is united more than ever to support one another in these challenging times. We share anger and frustration, most recently as a result of the shooting of Jacob Blake. While our passions continue to run high, we are proud that our players and clubs, League and Union, are taking time to have the difficult conversations about these issues that affect the Black community and other communities of color in America.”

The Ravens are scheduled to practice again Friday morning and to open their season Sept. 13 against the Cleveland Browns. They gave no indication of plans to halt team activities. The Orioles are scheduled to play the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo Friday evening and made no announcement about their plans for that game.

Despite a long tradition of activism in sports — from boxer Muhammad Ali sacrificing his heavyweight title rather than accept induction into the U.S. Army in 1967 to U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists at the 1968 Olympics to denounce racism — this week’s protests moved with unprecedented speed and breadth.

Players said they reached a breaking point after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, seven times in front of his three children. Many already had expressed outrage and demanded action after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May.

Just four years ago, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the pregame national anthem to protest racial inequality and particularly, bias in policing.

The NFL was widely lambasted for its response to Kaepernick, with the activist quarterback suing the league for collusion as supporters argued he had been blackballed for speaking out.

In Baltimore, meanwhile, Ravens players were booed after more than a dozen kneeled during the national anthem before a 2017 game in London. Team president Dick Cass said the protest led to declines in attendance at M&T Bank Stadium.

Now, in the last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has apologized to Kaepernick, saying “I wish we had listened earlier.” And the Ravens have called for police to be arrested in the Blake and Taylor cases after donating $1 million earlier this month to social justice causes selected by the players.

“Extremely proud to be part of an organization that continues to lead the way!” Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin wrote on Twitter Thursday evening.

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