Mookie Betts took a knee prior to his Dodgers debut.
Mookie Betts is usually a humble, soft-spoken baseball superstar. So on Thursday, before ever appearing in a regular-season game with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he let his actions do his talking for him.
Betts was the only Dodger to kneel in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement during the national anthem before L.A.’s Opening Day game against the Giants at Dodgers Stadium. His new teammates that were flanking him, Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger, placed their hand on his shoulder in a gesture of support.
That is the first image the baseball world has of Betts in a Dodgers uniform before a game that counts — a silent gesture to promote racial equality. Betts has been uncharacteristically vocal since the death of George Floyd in May brought the subject of police brutality and racism into the national conversation. In June, he appeared in a Black Lives Matter video alongside David Price, former Red Sox teammate Jackie Bradley Jr and other African-American players. He’s also been an active figure in The Players Alliance, a group of African-American ballplayers formed to promote diversity and black participation in the game.
Earlier in July, Betts criticized Major League Baseball for not doing enough to address the subject of racism. “I think baseball did not do a good job with that but I think voices were heard,” he said. “I think that’s the main thing, that we get our voices heard to make some changes. I know it’s not going to be all at one time. A little change here, a little change there and eventually we’ll get to where we need to be.”
Betts’ courageous stance is already marking him out as a leader in a star-studded Dodgers clubhouse. He joined the Dodgers in February in a trade along with Price for prospects Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs. On Wednesday, he signed a 12-year, $365 million contract extension that will keep him in Los Angeles until 2033.
The addition of Betts adds to a lineup that was already considered a World Series contender. Since 2016, Betts is second in WAR behind only Mike Trout among outfielders. He’s sixth in batting average and eighth in OPS. The 2018 AL MVP and world champion with Boston has scored the most runs in the league over the last four seasons.
But, on Thursday at least, what he does on the field is secondary to what he did just before the game. He was joined by Giants manager Gabe Kapler and several Giants players in taking a knee before the anthem. Black Lives Matter was stenciled into the pitcher’s mound at Dodgers Stadium. Baseball is finally paying attention, and it’s thanks to the support to the movement that superstars like Betts have provided.