WASHINGTON, D.C. — “After he saw the video of a Minneapolis police officer killing George Floyd, Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen felt compelled to do something. His first instinct was to kneel during the national anthem when baseball returned to the field. Following a conversation with his wife, Maria, he decided on a different path.

At the season-opening game Thursday night between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals, players from both teams stood next to each other and held a long, black tapestry — a socially distanced alternative, McCutchen said, to linking arms to show unity. Over the loudspeaker, actor Morgan Freeman read a speech written by McCutchen and Maria that began: “In order to achieve effective change and create a new canvas of optimism, empathy must lead the charge. This moment signifies our charge. Our brotherhood. Our unity. Equality and unity cannot be until there is empathy.”

Players and coaches from both teams then took to one knee, with most bowing their heads. While all stood for the national anthem that played after, the message, McCutchen told ESPN earlier this week, was to acknowledge injustice not just in the United States, but everywhere, and illustrate that Major League Baseball, a league that has lagged in addressing social issues, can be a force for change.

“This is a moment for us to honor each other, to honor the things that we’re going through,” McCutchen said. “With the social injustices we’re going through in this country, with the things that exist outside our nation — places like Venezuela, the Dominican Republic. To honor that and show that we honor each other, that we have each other’s back, that we’re going to fight for each other. And the way we do that is by collectively being together as one. This is a representation of that.” 

Following conversations with The Players Alliance, a group of Black baseball players that includes McCutchen, the league offered players sleeve patches that read “Black Lives Matter” or “United For Change.”

Interested players were given batting practice T-shirts that read, “Black Lives Matter,” and teams across baseball can stencil “BLM” or “United For Change” on the field behind the mound for Opening Day across the sport Friday.

“MLB stands in solidarity with the Black community in the fight for racial and social justice,” the league said in a statement. “

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