Thompson: Gabe Kapler’s gesture and its context are worthy of respect (2024)

The easy impulse would be to dismiss Giants manager Gabe Kapler’s kneeling as grandstanding. Taking a knee has become trendy, like Polynesian tattoos and diamond crucifix medallions. At some point, without warning, these iconic symbols were stripped of their intended meaning, trinketized by woke culture looking for clout in social media discourse.


There has been so much kneeling, and talk about kneeling, about the reasons to do so, about why they shouldn’t do so, it can start to feel cliché. Those who kneel during the national anthem now — nearly four years after Colin Kaepernick first started taking a knee, months after more police brutality resurrected the gesture, weeks after the National Women’s Soccer League re-launched sports with the epic visuals of unified protest — it’s starting to feel more like a fashion statement than a defiant one.

Especially in baseball, which bathes in Americana like teenage boys do cologne, it’s easy to wonder: Since when did you become a freedom fighter?

Admittedly, that was my initial reaction. Maybe I’m just exhausted and don’t have the bandwidth needed for the ensuing conversation. Maybe it is just harder to delineate between valuable sincerity and virtue signaling. Maybe Breonna Taylor already fading from public consciousness, as justice still evades her family, has heightened my cynicism.

But that’s not fair to Kapler. And a closer look reveals what he did, in light of who he is and what he represents, is indeed meaningful. And important. And commendable.

To be sure, I don’t know Kapler all that well. I’ve talked to him a few times and he’s hella cool. Undoubtedly, he doesn’t have to prove a thing to me. I’m not the quality control manager of sports protests.

But here is what I do know, which impacts the respect I have for his stance.

Yes, others took a knee. But a manager is different. It’s not a small deal for a manager in baseball to participate in this polarizing behavior. The manager in professional baseball holds a certain kind of cachet. Leader of men. Brains of the organization. Motivator. There is a bit of regality to the position. Enough losses can certainly chip away at a manager, but not the position.


Plus, baseball has never been kind to rebels. Assuredly, taking a knee in Oakland on Monday (and again Tuesday in San Francisco) for the Giants doesn’t exactly put Kapler on par with Moses Fleetwood Walker. But A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell took a knee 34 months ago in the same Oakland Coliseum and received death threats and constant harassment before essentially disappearing from MLB. Despite being the sport that boasts Jackie Robinson, baseball isn’t the place you’d ever expect a manager to engage in peaceful protest on behalf of Black people. The culture of baseball is such that when Maxwell did protest, even Black players left him hanging — “He should be mad. We should’ve been there,” Cameron Maybin told ESPN’s Howard Bryant — instead of clashing with baseball’s tradition of face-paint patriotism. Kapler will never stop hearing it from a segment of the fan base about his perceived disrespect.

He opened himself up to be criticized. And he was. By President Donald Trump. By former players such as Aubrey Huff and Lenny Dykstra. By fans who are adamant citizens must always stand for the flag. By people who don’t like the job he did in Philadelphia. By people who still have issues about the handling of the sexual assault cases in the Dodgers’ minor-league system when he was the director of player development.That’s all fair game and what gives the kneel some teeth. Kapler could have indeed focused on baseball, diverted the examination of his motives. But he had something to say about police brutality and he participated in a peaceful protest to declare his issue.

Think about it. Years from now, after Gen Z has cured cancer and solved world hunger and saved the world from global warming, we will look back — well, my granddaughter will look back in history class — and see that during the Black Lives Matter movement in the second decade of the 21st century, the first coach (figure) to take a knee was Gabe Kapler.

Not Doc Rivers, Steve Kerr or Gregg Popovich. Not Mike Tomlin or Pete Carroll or Kyle Shanahan. That honor belongs to Kapler.

And not for nothing, Kapler and I have a mutual connection who told me about a conversation he had with the Giants skipper. What Kapler was saying behind the scenes, in a private conversation, was meaningful supporting evidence that reveal his genuineness about being an ally. He has people vouching for him.


“I see nothing more American than standing up for what you believe in,” Kapler said in a Zoom call with reporters before the Giants hosted the A’s on Tuesday. “I see nothing more patriotic than peaceful protest when things are frustrating and upsetting. Finally, there’s nobody that should make us stop doing the right thing. It doesn’t matter what leader says that they’re not going to be following a game. What matters the most is that we’re unwavering in trying to do what’s right and that what guides our decision is standing up for people who need us to stand up for them.”

And this component is especially intriguing to me: Kapler is Jewish. He was known as the Hebrew Hammer in his heyday.

Seriously. I didn’t make that up. Back in May 2017, he spoke at the sports banquet for the Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada. The flyer for the event said, “Shake Hands with the Hebrew Hammer.”

Kapler’s ethnicity is relevant information in light of the national discourse prompted by DeSean Jackson’s offensive Instagram post, which will not be repeated or linked here. Jackson prompted lots of conversation and learning — including some important dialogue from some of my co-workers — and creates an occasion for a reminder about the historic relationship between African Americans and American Jews.

In the book “Black Power, Jewish Politics,” author Marc Dollinger talks about a strong 10-year window in which Jews and Blacks were unified in the justice fight up to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two weeks before his assassination in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Rabbinical Assembly convention and discussed how the African American fight for equality was greatly aided by the support of the Jewish community.

“Probably more than any other ethnic group, the Jewish community has been sympathetic and has stood as an ally to the Negro in his struggle for justice,” King said in the address.

The supportive Jews included Kapler’s parents — Michael and Judy — who were activists in their prime. They marched. The heard King speak live. It makes sense that he would see this as his chance to fulfill his parents’ legacy, make them proud while also following his convictions.


See, the MLK “Let Freedom Ring” banner on Kapler’s Twitter, which has been up for a long while now, has some context.

It is fair to ask how much these gestures actually mean. If the point was to shine a light, the issues are under the brightest of spotlights. Finally.

It is fair to ask what kind of actions will back up these protests. Such was asked of Kaepernick when he started this, and Kapler knows the same will be asked of him.

It is fair to wonder why anyone who is kneeling now didn’t do so last year. Or the year before. Or the year before that.

But apathy and cynicism don’t make the most righteous of scales. The sacrifices people make on behalf of others shouldn’t only be respected when they meet personal and unscientific standards of worthiness. It is only right to consider context, investigate for intention and weigh credibility.

After doing that, Kapler gets my salute. And my patience instead of my skepticism.

(Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

Thompson: Gabe Kapler’s gesture and its context are worthy of respect (1)Thompson: Gabe Kapler’s gesture and its context are worthy of respect (2)

Marcus Thompson II is a lead columnist at The Athletic. He is a prominent voice in the Bay Area sports scene after 18 years with Bay Area News Group, including 10 seasons covering the Warriors and four as a columnist. Marcus is also the author of the best-selling biography "GOLDEN: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry." Follow Marcus on Twitter @thompsonscribe

Thompson: Gabe Kapler’s gesture and its context are worthy of respect (2024)


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