The sports world responded to the tragic grade-school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in various ways this week, from Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s emotional news conference to San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler’s decision to remain in the clubhouse during the national anthem.
The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays provided statistics on gun violence instead of posting batting averages and game highlights on their Twitter accounts during a game Thursday. And on Saturday, Chicago’s five most prominent professional teams — the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Bears and Bulls — banded together with the McCormick Foundation to donate $300,000 to the Robb School Memorial Fund and the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation.
Everyone agrees something must be done to prevent such tragedies from reoccurring. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to state the obvious — that America’s gun laws need to change to prevent an 18-year-old kid from purchasing an assault rifle and committing mass murder.
The five teams, which call themselves Chicago’s Sports Alliance, should be lauded for donating money to families of the victims and to an anti-gun violence advocacy group.
I just wish they would have taken it one step further and called for sensible gun reform, as other organizations have done.
“Our focus on this gift was empathy for the victims and support for an agency that works to reduce these instances in the future, hopefully,” White Sox executive vice president Scott Reifert said. “And that decision (on delivering a message on gun laws) was left to individual organizations in the course of their giving.”
Cubs vice president Julian Green said the Sports Alliance has addressed gun violence in Chicago in the past and added it “made sense to leverage the power of this organization to try to make an impact on these issues.” But neither of the spokesmen would commit to sending a message about gun reform, which could make an even bigger impact.
The NBA, as usual, has led the way. Before a playoff game against the Boston Celtics last week in Miami, the Heat public-address announcer told fans: ”The Heat urges you to contact your state senators by calling 202-224-3121 to leave a message demanding their support for common sense gun laws.” And before Thursday’s Warriors-Dallas Mavericks playoff game at the Chase Center in San Francisco, an announcement was made advocating “sensible gun laws in America.”
That came on the heels of Kerr’s speech Tuesday in which he rhetorically asked: “When are we going to do something? I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I’m tired of the excuses. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough.”
Kapler responded with an angry blog post stating American is “not the land of the free nor the home of the brave right now” and followed by announcing he would not stand for the anthem “until I feel better about our country.”
It’s a sensitive topic, to be sure. In fact it was so sensitive Saturday that White Sox manger Tony La Russa said he would only give his reaction to Kapler’s stance if the media members on hand promised “everything I say gets reported, not anything taken out of context.”
It was an unnecessary request — not to mention insulting — but we agreed nevertheless.
La Russa said he “respects” Kapler as a person and manager and that he was “exactly right to be concerned” about the issues confronting the country.
“Where I disagree is that the flag and the anthem are not appropriate places to try to voice your objections,” La Russa continued. “I think you go to the cause of what really bothers you about the direction of the country.”
La Russa called it a “mistake” by Kapler to draw attention to the anthem and flag while protesting the incident in Texas. He advised people to “understand what the veterans think when they hear the anthem or see the flag and the cost they paid and their families paid” during wars.
“But it’s not the flag, and it’s not the anthem,” he said before recalling his pride in watching a documentary on the Dream Team draped in American flags after winning the gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
“I thought, ‘Man, that’s what the anthem is, that’s what the flag is,’ ” he said. “And it’s all that’s right in this country, and it’s you’re right to dislike or protest all you want. … I agree with (Kapler) — there’s a lot wrong — but I would never not stand up for the anthem or salute the flag.”
Several White Sox players, however, did just that in 2020 to protest the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Lucas Giolito, along with coaches Joe McEwing and Daryl Boston, took a knee before a game against the Minnesota Twins at Sox Park.
And, like Kapler, they were not disrespecting veterans with their stance. They were sending a message against racism and police brutality. It was a moment many of us will always remember.
Cubs President Jed Hoyer, who also has known and respected Kapler for years, said he was “proud” of the manager for taking a stance. Hoyer said baseball, like other sports, could make a difference in changing society.
“What the Rays and Yankees did the other night on social media was great,” he said. “The (five) Chicago teams making their donation and their statement was great. I think we’re seeing that, whether it’s MLB as a whole or individual teams or individual people, there’s definitely a place for it.
“I do think sports in general have a large audience and therefore can make a difference. … It’s a good start.”
Yes, it was a good start, and kudos to Chicago’s teams for helping the victims.
But unless more organizations follow the path of the Heat and Warriors and advocate for sensible gun laws in this country, we’re probably right back where we started.
Donating money is all well and good, but it’s time for everyone to take a stand.