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The Dodgers follow Mookie Betts’ lead

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“We just wanted to do the right thing as a team,” Clayton Kershaw said

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Dodgers decided collectively not to play a baseball game on Wednesday. The game itself will be made up, with the Dodgers and Giants playing a doubleheader beginning at 1:05 p.m. PT Thursday, but that’s relatively unimportant.

What matters is why and how they came to the decision.

Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, which has since incited protests in the state and around the country.

“It’s not a political issue. I understand the election is coming up, but this is a human being issue,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said in a Zoom press conference. “We all need to be treated the same way, and a Black man being shot seven times in the back, it’s just, we need to be better. That just can’t happen.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play their NBA playoff game in protest, and fairly soon after all three NBA games on the day were postponed. Mookie Betts said he talked with his family, texted friends in and around the game, and came to a similar decision.

“For me, I think no matter what, I wasn’t going to play tonight because I had to stand by my guns here,” Betts said. “Like [Roberts] said, there’s a lot going on in the world and change needs to be made. You know, I have to use my platform to at least get the ball rolling.”

Getting the ball rolling is starting tough conversations, ideally affecting change and an end systemic racism. It’s not just about Blake, or George Floyd, or Ahmaud Arbery, or Breonna Taylor, or countless others before them. It’s about Black people being respected as human beings.

“Black people have been fighting this fight for centuries, and we haven’t gotten anywhere,” Betts said. “I think having the white players, and people in general, to help push it, I think change can be made. But it’s going to take all of us, not just one group of people.”

Roberts said he wasn’t going to manage the game had it been played, and that he had the full support from the organization and owner Mark Walter, as did first base coach George Lombard and strength coach Travis Smith, two Black members of his staff.

“It was very personal to me,” Roberts said. “My cousin got shot and killed. My father was one of the first Black men at his high school, and had many fights and threats.”

But it was up to the Dodgers players to decide what to do as a team.

“As a white player on this team, what’s something tangible that we can do to help support our Black brothers on this team?” Clayton Kershaw said. “Once Mookie said he wasn’t going to play, that really started our conversation as a team. We felt the best thing to do to support him was to not play, with him.

“We made a collective decision to not play tonight, and to let our voices be heard for standing up for what we believe is right, and that’s what it comes down to. We just wanted to do the right thing as a team.”

A few Dodgers had some conversations with Giants players, and Roberts and Gabe Kapler talked on the phone, ultimately deciding that both teams wouldn’t play.

Betts said he would have supported his teammates had they decided to play without him, but that they followed his lead speaks volumes. As for that doubleheader on Thursday, expect more of the same.

“We made a great statement as a team. I feel like we did the right thing for today,” Kershaw said. “As far as tomorrow goes, I think that’s another conversation. We’ll figure it out. But I believe if Mookie plans on playing, I think we’re going to play.”

Betts is the Dodgers’ best player, and already a leader just months into his tenure. Signed for 12 more years, Betts sounds as thrilled to be a Dodger as the team is in having him.

“I was already tight with everybody in the clubhouse, but now that I know everybody has my back even more than I already thought means a lot,” Betts said. “I’ll always remember this, and I’ll always remember this team had my back. This organization is nothing but amazing.”