New Sox manager La Russa alters view on protesting social injustice
There were no shortage of questions that followed Tony La Russa's return as White Sox manager on Thursday.
Why come back at age 76?
Why did Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf wait 34 years after firing La Russa to push for this peculiar reunion?
How is La Russa going to adapt to all of the changes the game has seen since he lasted managed in 2011?
On a Zoom interview after accepting the job, La Russa answered all inquiries for close to an hour.
That includes this one -- how is he going to manage a young, diverse White Sox roster that is tuned into social injustice?
The question was brought up four years after La Russa was asked by Sports Illustrated about professional athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
"I know there's a constitutional right to express yourself," La Russa said in 2016, when he was working in the Arizona Diamondbacks' front office. "But I think you have a right as an organization to have a certain philosophy of respecting, whether it's our constitution, whether it's our country, whether it's our soldiers, however you feel, our flag.
"I would not, to the best of my ability, I would not sanction somebody taking a knee. I think that's disrespectful. And I really question the sincerity of somebody like (former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick). I remember when he was on top, I never heard him talk about anything but himself. Now all of a sudden, he's struggling for attention and he makes this big pitch. I don't buy it. And even if he was sincere, there are other ways to show your concerns. Disrespecting our flag is not the way to do it."
Before the season opener this year, Tim Anderson, the White Sox's lone Black player at the time, Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Lucas Giolito took knees during the anthem, as did bench coach Joe McEwing and first-base coach Daryl Boston.
Erstwhile manager Rick Renteria knelt during pregame ceremonies promoting special justice and diversity and inclusion, and he stood and placed a hand on Anderson's shoulder for the anthem.
After the first game of the season, no member of the Sox knelt the rest of the year.
"I feel like (the opener) was definitely big enough to actually spread the love that is needed," Anderson said. "Show that I support it. But I will not continue to kneel. I just showed my love and showed it in the right way, in a respectful way. But I will continue to be the person that I am and continue to have fun."
La Russa acknowledged much has changed since his Sports Illustrated interview, and he has a different view on public protests.
"I know in 2016, when the first issue occurred, my initial instincts were all about respecting the flag and the anthem and what America stands for," La Russa said. "A lot has gone on in a very healthy way since 2016 and not only do I respect it, I applaud the awareness that has come into not just society but especially in sports. If you talk about baseball specifically, I applaud and support the fact they are now addressing, identifying the injustices, especially on the racial side.
"As long as it's peacefully protested and sincere -- and what I'm learning more and more -- like with the Players Alliance and especially with the White Sox, when your protests actually have action-oriented results, the way you are going to impact, make things better, I'm all for it."
La Russa was asked about why he gets to judge what is "sincere."
"Well, I take it … I evaluate players' commitment to our team," he said. "And based on watching them closely, you can detect the sincerity of when they say I'm all in for helping the team and then you look around and see that they are not all in. So, I think you look at actions.
"Words are words. I would look at actions and what I'm seeing, one of the reasons I'm so encouraged by what I've seen the last bunch of years, how players are backing up their words with actions. They are not just speaking to speak."
Bruce Maxwell, who gained notoriety for being the first major-league player to kneel for the national anthem late in the 2017 season when he was with the Oakland A's, went on social media and supported La Russa after he rejoined the White Sox as manager.
"La Russa is a SOLID man that made time to meet me personally in 2018 when everyone in baseball turned their back," Maxwell wrote on Twitter. "I was so nervous. But we talked over an hour & I will never forget him extending his support to get me back in the game. And he did! @whitesox made a GREAT choice!"