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After initial unanimous vote to play, Orioles-Rays game postponed Thursday as sports leagues come to halt amid protests

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is emotional as he speaks about the team's choice to postpone its game against the Rays.

Reversing course on what manager Brandon Hyde called a unanimous decision from the Orioles to play amid professional athletes strikes in all the major sports to bring attention to racial justice and police brutality, the team announced that Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays has been postponed.

“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 victims of social justice and systemic racism,” the team said in a tweet just minutes after the scheduled first pitch at 6:40 p.m.

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In their own statement, the Rays said “like the Orioles, our team struggled with the decision of whether to play this evening. The decision was made not to play, and we stand firmly with all those fighting for social justice and to end systemic racism.’'

Hyde said after the game was postponed that the initial team meeting the Orioles had in which they decided to play sparked further conversations among players as they were out on the field for batting practice.

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“Sounds like our guys talked a lot more and wanted to meet together as a team again when we came in from batting practice,” Hyde said. “As we came in from batting practice, we had another clubhouse meeting. Our guys expressed more of their thoughts on the situation, and I think there was a lot of people hurting in the room. They decided, our team decided, that they would like to not play tonight.”

The second meeting was players only, Hyde said, and when he and the coaches were summoned, “you could see in their faces there was a ton of emotion in the room.”

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.”

“We just want to stand with one another and since one of us is feeling that way, or two of us, however many it may be, we’re all going to stand as one and make the same decision,” Tate said.

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Over the past two days, athletes and their teams have been deciding not to play as a way to bring attention to the police shooting of 29-year-old Black man Jacob Blake on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Baseball was the only major professional sport to play games Thursday, with the NBA and NHL postponing playoff games after the players decided not to play and MLS and the WNBA also sitting out.

While the Orioles’ initial decision to play was an emotional one, Hyde said he was “very conscious” of how playing might seem to be at odds with the meaningful issues being addressed in their clubhouse and around the country.

Hyde said his players didn’t express any reservations about playing in their initial meetings. He alluded to a second meeting set to take place before first pitch in which they might discuss how to best proceed with showing how they felt or to amplify what was already planned for Jackie Robinson Day on Friday.

In that meeting, the Orioles players discussed the issue further and decided not to play. Hyde said in his pregame comments, which began at around 5:10 p.m., that the team would be ready to compete when the game began but there were “so many more important things that are happening besides our game right now.”

Orioles players saw how those other things were impacting some of their teammates and decided not to play.

“To listen to our players talk, and their stories, and their experiences, it’s very moving,” Hyde said. “This is just a difficult time, that I’m learning a lot [in]. We’re doing the best we can in our clubhouse and I feel really good about everything that’s going on in our little world, in our clubhouse. I want our guys to know that they have free expression, and be free thinkers, and that they always have my support.”

Several of the afternoon games scheduled in baseball began, though six other games were postponed. In a show of solidarity, the New York Mets and Miami Marlins took the field in New York for a moment of silence before placing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt over home plate, tipping their caps to each other and exiting the field.

The games involving the teams that decided not to play Wednesday — the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, and the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers — all continued as scheduled Thursday.

Starting pitcher Alex Cobb, one of the most experienced players on the Orioles roster, said nothing involving any other teams’ decisions influenced what the Orioles wanted to do.

“Nothing from the outside, league-wide postponements or anything of that nature came into play on this,” Cobb said. “It was the conversations as a group going out to BP, during BP, and bringing that back into the locker room.”

The Players Alliance, a group of over 100 current and former MLB players who are Black, posted on Instagram on Thursday that their members will be donating their salaries for Thursday and Friday to the organization to support their efforts “to combat racial inequality and aid the Black families and communities deeply affected in the wake of recent events.”

The organization’s website lists Orioles players Cedric Mullins, Mason Williams, Dillon Tate and Dwight Smith Jr. as members.

Since sports restarted last month, discussions of racial justice have been at the forefront, continuing the precedent set when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality in 2016. MLB had a Black Lives Matter video play at every park on Opening Day, and NBA stars often used their media availability to note that the police officers in Louisville who killed Breonna Taylor have still not been disciplined.

The police shooting of Blake sparked a fresh round of demonstrations this week. The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t take the court for their playoff game Wednesday, leading to other NBA teams scheduled to play deciding not to and the league postponing their games.

Three MLB games also didn’t happen after the players decided not to participate. Some Black stars around the league — including St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, and Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Kemp — sat out as their teams continued to play.

The Orioles and Rays played Wednesday night despite it all, with Orioles players and Hyde saying the 6:40 p.m. start time left them only a brief period to react to the first wave of players deciding not to participate and following the Bucks’ lead.

Hyde said he convened a group of all the team’s African-American players and members of their traveling party, which he characterized as a “great conversation” with “some very high-character, class guys that are very thoughtful,” but the idea of not playing did not come up.

So, they carried what was a quickly developing and powerful story with them onto the field. Mullins said he felt frustration and sadness for Blake’s family, and it was hard to push through the game.

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After it ended, Hyde vowed to use Thursday for the larger team meeting that he wished he could have had before Wednesday’s game. Mullins said Wednesday night that it was “a possibility” that the team could arrive at a different conclusion Thursday.

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“We want to continue to make decisions as a team and show each other support throughout this whole process and the pain we’re going through with our different communities,” Mullins said.

The Orioles took a similar collective approach last month as teams decided how to best acknowledge the cultural calls for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement when the regular season began.

Players and coaches wore Black Lives Matter shirts during batting practice, knelt in unison holding a black banner during a pregame video package on racial justice and stood with their arms over the next man’s shoulder during the national anthem on Opening Day in Boston.

Mullins and other Black players in the clubhouse have found their own voices on issues of racial justice in this time as well.

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