I like Dominic Smith.
I’ve always liked his positive attitude as a New York Met; his tenacity in battling adversity; his team-first attitude even when his own playing time was limited; his willingness to work hard to learn a new position, left field, when rookie sensation Pete Alonso displaced him at first base last year; and finally, his fighting his way into the everyday lineup this season, when he has emerged as the team’s most productive hitter.
It also didn’t hurt that, whenever he crosses home plate, he blesses himself with the sign of the cross.
And then there is his backstory: growing up amid inner-city poverty in south central Los Angeles, drafted by the Mets after participating in a Major League Baseball inner-cities youth program. Now he gives of himself to help other youngsters in south central LA, through the Baseball Generation Foundation, which uses baseball as a tool to “foster character, cognitive skills, social skills, and self-confidence in youth from elementary school to college.”
So when, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week, Dom Smith took a knee during the playing of the national anthem, I, for one, sat up and took notice.
Yes, Smith had some strong things to say after the unconscionable police killing of George Floyd, recounting some of his own experiences with racism and mistreatment by police.
But this was not Colin Kaepernick or LeBron James, condemning America as oppressive while stuffing their pockets full of Nike dollars obtained on the backs of slave laborers in China. It wasn’t James, while raking in untold millions himself for playing a game, accusing NFL owners of having a “slave mentality” toward the players to whom they pay countless millions.
Watching Dom Smith openly weeping as he explained his action after the Blake shooting, I saw a responsible, caring young man, a man who is working to better the lives of poor black youth in his neighborhood, now in deep pain over another police shooting of a black man.
To be sure, we don’t know all the relevant facts of the Kenosha shooting. While Jacob Blake’s supporters say he was trying to break up a domestic dispute when police arrived, authorities say police were called because he was violating a restraining order related to a pending sexual assault allegation against him. That’s serious stuff.
A police union claims Blake had a knife and had violently assaulted one of the officers. The Wisconsin attorney general’s office will neither confirm nor deny the union’s version as it investigates, and caution is warranted. Recall that after the George Floyd killing, even the staunchly pro-cop New York Post deplored the tendency of police unions to automatically defend the cops in virtually every situation.
While we should all hold the vast majority of police in high regard as courageous men and women who put their lives on the line for us, we know there are also bad, even criminal, cops. I’m not certain how often racism is what motivates such cops (I suspect it is often just a lust for power) but then I don’t have the same experience with police that Dominic Smith has had as a young black male. And so I can appreciate the intense pain he feels, as he works to improve life in black America, over one more police shooting of a black man.
At the same time, it is to be hoped that he also feels intense pain for all those innocent black victims who have been killed in recent weeks as street crime soars in America’s cities in the wake of current anti-policing policies. It is to be hoped that he feels the pain of black small business owners who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by looters and rioters ostensibly protesting racism. It is to be hoped that he feels the pain of so many young black males growing up without the love and guidance of fathers—making them especially vulnerable to the lure of gangs, drugs, and violence, and surely contributing to the wildly disproportionate incarceration rate of young African Americans.
I am hopeful, without knowing him, that Dominic Smith does feel the pain of those realities, as he strives so hard to give black inner-city youth a chance. We need to support him in that work, as well as in his efforts to protest police brutality and to eradicate racial intolerance. And whatever our feelings about his decision to “take a knee” during the national anthem, we should be grateful to him for sharing his heartfelt pain, as he urges us to work together to make America a better place for all.