I am a baseball fan. More specifically, I am a Dodgers fan. I became a baseball fan over twenty-two years ago when I was able to get sober and began my journey of recovery. That is when I made my first trip to Dodger Stadium. There have been more than a hundred trips out to the stadium – or what I like to refer to as The Cathedral at Chavez Ravine – in the two-plus decades since then. I have witnessed amazing moments on the field and had great times – win or lose – with my friends at the ballpark. Thanks to my good friends Patrick and Sharon, I was even able to see my first ever World Series game, something I never dreamed I would be able to do. I love baseball.
This year is different for baseball and other sports. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the game. Baseball games are being played in empty stadiums with cardboard cutouts of people in the stands. The NBA is playing the remainder of their season in just two arenas in Florida with no fan participation except those watching on television. The NBA is also making a statement. Each player has the option if wearing the name of a black person killed in police violence or slogans that support the Black Lives Matter Movement. “BLACK LIVES MATTER” is painted in large bold lettering along the length of the court for all to see – every single game. It is a statement that tells the world where the NBA stands on issues of racial justice.
We cannot be at Dodger Stadium in person this year and witness first-hand what just might be another amazing World Series run for the Dodgers. But this week we witnessed what just might be the most important of all moments. And not one pitch was thrown. Not one run was scored.
On Wednesday, August 26, teams from the NBA, WNBA, MLB, and MLS suspended games to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Jacob was shot seven times in the back and now remains in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the waist down. This was a powerful display of solidarity. But there is a story behind the story here, and that brings us back to the Dodgers and their star outfielder, Mookie Betts.
Hours before the scheduled start of that day’s game between the Dodgers and Giants in San Francisco, it was reported that the two teams were in conversation about whether to take the field that day or refuse to play in protest. But Mookie Betts had already made up his mind. As the Dodgers were preparing for batting practice, he told his Dodgers teammates that he would not be paying that day. Rather than abandon him to his choice, they rallied around him in solidarity and made the decision.
If Mookie’s not playing, we are not playing.
Mookie would later say, “I will always remember this day. I’ll always remember this team just having my back.” The Dodgers have always impressed me as a class organization, but on this day, they rose even above themselves. They, along with the Giants and all the other teams who took a knee instead of taking the fields and courts that day, made a statement about who they were and where they stand.
So, what does the actions by these professional teams have to do with religion or the church? Everything.
The professional sports leagues know the power of the stage on which they stand. They know that people are watching and paying attention. On Wednesday, August 26, they made a collective decision to use their platform to make a statement. Religion and the church also have a platform. People are watching us too and paying attention to the statements we make and the stands we take in important moments such as these. People are looking for answers, needing leadership, and a sense that when they take the risk to stand for what is good and right, they are not alone – that faith communities have their back.
This is a time for religious leaders to use our platform to practice what we preach – to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God; to truly stand with the most vulnerable, marginalized, disenfranchised, and brutalized among us; to speak the truth of justice to the systemic power structures that not only too often diminish people of color, but erase their life. Jesus stood against these powers and so should we. Prophetic voices of the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi spoke of justice and so should we if we are to be relevant as spiritual leaders of our time. As the Rev. William Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign slogan that says: “Someone is hurting our people. It has gone on for too long, and we won’t be silent anymore.”
It is not lost on me that the day all those teams refused to take the field was exactly four years to the day when Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem. A week later he would switch to kneeling to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Many are continuing to take that stand now. It is not too late for us to make a statement and take our stand.
Where are the communities of faith now? Are we using our God given platforms to speak for justice? Are we kneeling to pray in solidarity for the most vulnerable among us? Are we being a prophetic voice of God’s reign of justice and truth? Are we making a visible stand against the powers that destroy human lives? Are we truly striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being?
Things are changing now. Will we be a voice for that change? Will we be able to say that we stood on the right side of history in this moment? Now is the time to make that choice. Now is the time to profess our faith not only with our lips, but in our actions.