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Orioles kneel before national anthem, stand with arms locked during song on Opening Day as show of unity

Orioles players and coaches, committed to showing unity in their display of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, took a knee in unison while holding a black ribbon before the national anthem. The Orioles stood with arms locked in unison once the song began ahead of Friday’s Opening Day game at Boston’s Fenway Park.

The demonstration comes as ballplayers around the country are using their platform as the first major sport to return to bring attention to race and social justice issues. Players and coaches from every MLB team have knelt while holding a long black ribbon before the anthem during Thursday and Friday’s season-opening games.

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The demonstration on Opening Day in Boston came from what Dwight Smith Jr., one of several Black players on the team, described as “positive” conversations within the clubhouse on issues of race and social justice.

“Once we come together as a team, we’re going to display that as a team, together,” outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. told The Baltimore Sun earlier this week.

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Smith, who has used his social media platforms to highlight cases of police brutality since the death of George Floyd during an arrest by Minneapolis police officers in late May, highlighted conversations with Mychal Givens, Chris Davis, Alex Cobb and manager Brandon Hyde as productive ones.

“I’ve talked to everybody in that clubhouse from top to bottom,” Smith said. “Everybody is on the same page, and we are just looking forward to starting this season. I feel like this, having these conversations as a team, will help us come together as a unit and make us stronger. We’ll become a better team going through these hardships.”

Before Friday’s game, Hyde wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt to his pregame media call. Many players wore the shirts during pregame warmups on the field at Fenway Park. Hyde appeared to get emotional as he recounted how the team has approached the issue.

“I’m supporting our players, I’m supporting our players and their rights to individually express themselves in a peaceful way. That’s the culture we’re trying to build here and that’s has happened the last few months. It’s been unbelievable, to be honest with you.”

Hyde said they’ve talked about Opening Day, racial equality, and social justice the entire week, including up to a few hours before the game.

”We’re just going to be unified,” Hyde said. “That’s the main goal for all of us. We want to show everybody that we’re united, that we are one team and that we love each other and we’re doing this together.”

Davis said: “We want to look unified as a group, and we are. I think it’s going to be a really special moment for a number of guys.”

The Orioles were in Boston in September 2016 as then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality, when star center fielder Adam Jones made comments about such protests not making it to baseball because it was “a white man’s sport.”

Only one MLB player — Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell — knelt previously, in 2017.

The death of Floyd, along with the death of Louisville resident Breonna Taylor during a nighttime police raid and countless other deaths of Blacks in America, changed the conversation about such things, Smith said. He believes the proliferation of videos and information regarding incidents of police brutality and racism.

“I’ve seen so many videos in the past couple of months than I have in my entire life. I was alarmed,” Smith said. “Like, ‘Wow, this is insane. This is the world we’re in right now.’”

During MLB’s exhibition season, teams began demonstrating on the field. Several players on the San Francisco Giants, including manager Gabe Kapler, knelt during the national anthem. The Milwaukee Brewers wore shirts that read “Justice, Equality Now” during an intrasquad game this week, and the Los Angeles Dodgers put out a video with stars like Clayton Kershaw speaking out against racial injustice.

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The Cleveland Indians used their exhibition games to show unity during the national anthem by having each player put his hand around the back of the man to his left, standing together during the song.

Regular season games began Thursday night, with the Washington Nationals, New York Yankees, Dodgers and San Francisco Giants all kneeling in unison with the ribbon before the anthem. Dodgers star Mookie Betts took a knee during the national anthem, with teammates Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy putting their hands on his shoulders in support. Several Giants players took a knee as well.

As an organization, the Orioles have supported Black Lives Matter through a statement in June, quoting the writer James Baldwin and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The statement ended: “The entire Orioles family expresses solidarity with the families of all who have had their lives destroyed and communities disrupted by the forces of racial bias and violent abuse. With enduring understanding, empathy, and a peaceful resolve, we are committed to advocate for the change our country needs today and to root out racism and prejudice of any kind as we strive to make a better America in the future. Black Lives Matter.”

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