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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees have sidestepped anthem controversy . . . so far

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi looks on

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi looks on from the dugout against the Seattle Mariners during a game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, July 19, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke


The day after A’s rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell took a knee and pulled Major League Baseball into the sizzling-hot political spotlight, the pregame scene at Rogers Centre was business as usual.

Through two national anthems, for the United States and Canada, the dozen or so Yankees on the field stood at attention, caps over hearts. As is typical for a road game, other players were back in the clubhouse or bullpen, doing what they usually do leading up to the first pitch.

But if any Yankee had decided to participate in his own form of protest Sunday, manager Joe Girardi would have been OK with that.

“It’s not something I would choose to do because it’s my opinion and I’m entitled to my opinion,” Girardi said. “Others are entitled to their own opinion. There’s going to be a lot of things in this world that you may not agree with, but I think it’s a player’s right. That’s the country we live in.”

Girardi declined to elaborate on his personal reasons for standing up during the anthem, saying that it could open up “a huge can of worms” that would be written about for weeks. And if he feels that’s the case, we can understand why he refused. The Yankees clinched a playoff berth less than 24 hours earlier, and frankly, the manager certainly doesn’t want to drag his team into a thorny political debate with a week left in the regular season.

For us, Girardi did the most important thing by respecting the right of everyone else on the Yankees — players, coaches, support staff — to express their perspectives. Maybe it didn’t happen Sunday, but that’s not to suggest a Yankee won’t take a knee Tuesday, later in the week or maybe before the Oct. 3 wild-card game. Obviously, this national debate isn’t going away anytime soon, nor should it.

Now that we’re entering the highest-profile part of the MLB calendar, there is the potential for even bigger impact. The flip side of that, however, is the possible distraction for a team trying to win a World Series.

With the Yankees being the most storied franchise in professional sports, their actions are magnified on the national stage, and the image of a player wearing pinstripes going to one knee would be powerful. The conversation also might be impossible to contain, and that’s probably partly why Aaron Judge deferred when asked about the topic after Sunday’s 9-5 loss to the Blue Jays.

“I’m a baseball player,” Judge said. “My job is to focus on playing baseball right now.”

This is Judge’s first full season in the majors, and despite a two-homer day that put him within one of Mark McGwire’s rookie record, the rightfielder doesn’t behave like a guy who has all of this figured out. And going down the road other big-name athletes have traveled the past few days, by taking a knee or lobbing Twitter shots at President Trump, can be a minefield with unforeseen consequences.

The Yankees’ media-relations department addressed this matter with players in spring training, when it still was a growing movement launched by former 49er Colin Kaepernick. Since then, the controversial subject hasn’t real ly been discussed within the Yankees, and MLB has yet to dive into the matter. From a manager’s standpoint, these individual protests can create conflict in a clubhouse; a team is a diverse group, with varied perspectives and political views. And these are turbulent times.

“Sometimes there are consequences from the way people view you,” Girardi said. “Those are the consequences that you have to deal with. But we live in a great country that allows us to express what we want to express.”

So far, the Yankees have mostly kept that a private affair.

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