(670 The Score) In his introductory media session Thursday, new White Sox manager Tony La Russa indicated his previous stance on athletes kneeling during the national anthem has evolved and expressed the belief that he can form strong relationships with young, outspoken players in a game that’s changed a great deal on the field and in fighting against social injustice since he last managed in 2011.
In 2016, La Russa forcefully criticized then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem, saying he wouldn’t welcome that on his team. He was the Diamondbacks’ chief baseball officer at the time. La Russa has made similar comments in the years since. On Thursday, he suggested his viewpoint has changed.
“Build a relationship – that’s what the first priority is the staff and I, to build a relationship of respect and trust with the team, get that family feeling,” La Russa said. “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. There’s been a lot that goes on in a very healthy way since 2016. Not only do I respect but I applaud the awareness that’s come into not just society but especially in sports. If you talk about specifically baseball, I applaud and would support the fact that 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 with like the Players’ Alliance and especially the White Sox, when your protests actually have action-oriented results, the way you’re going to impact to make things better, I’m all for it.”
La Russa managed the White Sox previously from 1979 to 1986, when he was fired midseason. He landed a job managing the Athletics weeks later in 1986 and led them until 1995. He managed the Cardinals from 1996 to 2011.
“At the same time, I do believe if you check the White Sox, A’s and Cardinals (teams that I used to manage), I can name you at least, with the White Sox, whether it was Chet Lemon, Junior Moore or Harold Baines, you go to the A’s, with Dave Stewart, Rickey Henderson, Dave Parker. You go to St. Louis with Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan, Reggie Sanders, I mean, I’ll take my chances if you talk to any of those people. There’s not a racist bone in my body. I do not like injustice, and I would support exactly what I mentioned – anything that’s peacefully done and sincerely thought of and especially with an action at the end of it will not be a problem.”
La Russa also added he’ll be welcoming to on-field celebrations like bat flips, which White Sox stars like Tim Anderson have become known for.
“I do believe at the basis that sportsmanship is important,” La Russa said. “Respect for the game and your opponents, I do believe in that – you don’t run up the score and things like that. But here’s what I see different. Every year, and this has been going for a while, even when I was managing, there’s more and more attention being paid to who does good and who does bad in a game. You don’t do anything right or wrong in a clutch that you don’t get celebrated for or criticized for. So I’ve seen how that has impacted players emotionally.
“What I see now is with players being more exuberant – and I’ll take Tim Anderson for an example – now it’s people showing, ‘Hey, I’m coming through.’ In fact, Major League Baseball is encouraging them to do so. If I see it’s sincere and it’s directed toward the game, that’s displaying the kind of emotion you want. As a coach, you want to get the players passionately involved with the competition.
“So the fact that now we’re encouraging players to be more expressive, I’m going to treat Tim, for example, as part of the family. The only thing I say and some of the people that I talk to, if your team celebrates and their team celebrates, then neither can be upset when you see celebrations, as long as everybody is doing it sincerely.”