LOS ANGELES — To Mike Yastrzemski, teammate Sam Coonrod’s hesitation is ironically helping explain his own decision to kneel during the national anthem.
Yastrzemski has been among the dozen or so Giants to protest during the national anthem while the country is reckoning with how Black people have been treated throughout the US’ history and are being treated right now. He has sparked both admiration and revulsion, such is the nature of the act that is so often wrongfully conflated with disrespecting the flag.
Coonrod has dealt with a similar dosage of both hate and love for declining to kneel with the rest of his teammates during Thursday’s pregame ceremony, everyone trying to show unity after the death of George Floyd in police custody. Coonrod said he only kneels for God and compared Black Lives Matter to Marxism.
Yastrzemski said he has talked with Coonrod.
“That’s part of why we do it, too, is just to spark conversation,” the 29-year-old outfielder said over Zoom before Sunday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium. “And that’s the best part about our country is we are free to express ourselves, and everybody’s entitled to their opinion. I think the biggest reason for me [to kneel] was to start conversation about just being open to learning and to experience new experiences and hearing things from a different perspective.”
He has been open to learning. He cited the number of conversations he’s had over the past few months, including with former Vanderbilt pal Tony Kemp of the A’s. Kemp, who is Black and was in Yastrzemski’s wedding, has started his own movement, the +1 Effect, in which he encourages people to ask him — or anyone — questions about race. He hopes education is the avenue toward change.
Yastrzemski called him “inspirational” and said once you inspire, you create change. It helped create change in Yastrzemski, who is now doing what he was not doing in February and March: taking a knee, sometimes alongside manager Gabe Kapler.
He thanked the organization, which has both encouraged him to express himself and done the same with Coonrod.
From people around him, Yastrzemski said he’s received a lot of support and love. He also said he has opened himself up to “a lot of ridicule from people who want to create hate.” It is worth it if he can show his friends — “that I consider my family — who have experienced racism that he will fight with and for them.
“I wanted to show my support and show that I don’t believe that what has happened to them has been right,” said Yastrzemski, batting leadoff and playing left field for the nationally televised Sunday game. “… I want to help change the focus and create conversation and try to help educate in any way possible. So that way we can all have the freedoms that we are guaranteed in our Constitution.”
It’s a start. Education creates “action,” he said, “it doesn’t necessarily create change.” He hopes one can lead to another.
He’s been talking with families who have protested in the past, who want to know that their actions matter and mean something. He’s balancing being a conscientious citizen with being a second-year major leaguer off to a nice start (.364/.417/.455) in three games.
“We’re not just limited to baseball players,” Yastrzemski said. “We can become better people in the locker room, and we can share our experiences and our conversations, and we’re very fortunate to be able to do that.”