Major League Baseball is certainly in an odd time right now. In a shortened 60-game season thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, some players have opted out while some teams have seen COVID-19 outbreaks inside their locker rooms.
At the same time, social justice movements spread to the sport in the same season. Fans of America’s Pastime have witnessed superstars like Mookie Betts and coaches like Gabe Kapler take a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. The New York Yankees gained detractors for similar Opening Day actions. It’s not uncommon for entire teams to wear “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts during warm-ups.
Baseball is under a microscope right now, and every little thing a player or coach says or does can become front-page news. Oakland Athletics bench coach Ryan Christenson has learned that the hard way.
Oakland A’s Bench Coach Gives Apparent Nazi Salute
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Christenson made what many believe is a Nazi salute in the postgame handshake line following the A’s 6-4 win over the Texas Rangers on Thursday night in Oakland, California.
As relief pitcher Liam Hendriks approached him on the playing field outside the dugout, the bench coach raised his right arm flat toward the sky. As you can see, the rest of his teammates around him are prepared for an elbow bump.
Hendriks, who is from Australia, corrects him by folding Christenson’s arm. The coach then appears to extend his arm for a second time during the postgame celebration.
“No, no straight arm, you have to bend your arm,” closer Liam Hendriks reportedly said.
“Oh, I see what you mean, oh no, it’s like ‘Heil Hitler,'” Christenson said he responded.
According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, A’s general manager David Forst called Christenson after the game once video of the gesture began to spread on social media. He apologized for the offensive gesture and apparent racist sentiment. Slusser noted he usually does a “karate chop” in the handshake line.
Christenson Apologized: “I Made a Mistake”
“I made a mistake and will not deny it. Today in the dugout I greeted players with a gesture that was offensive. In the world today of Covid, I adapted our elbow bump, which we do after wins, to create some distance with the players. My gesture unintentionally resulted in a racist horrible salute that I do not believe in. What I did is unacceptable and I deeply apologize.”
The Oakland Athletics also released a statement:
“A’s bench coach Ryan Christenson greeted players with a gesture that looked like a Nazi salute. We do not support or condone this gesture or the racist sentiment behind it. This is incredibly offensive, especially in these times when we as a Club and so many others are working to expose and address racial inequities in our country. We are deeply sorry that this happened on our playing field.”
It’s a potential stain on an organization who has seemingly been at the forefront of social justice and inclusion. A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem all the way back in 2017, and has since said his career suffered because of the choice.
A’s players like outfielders Khris Davis and Tony Kemp raised their fists in support of BLM on Opening Day this year, echoing the actions that players in the NFL and NBA have taken.
With leaders like executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, the A’s have made inclusion a key part of their organization. They’re even installing baseball’s first ever inclusive “sensory room” in their new stadium.
It’s unclear if Christenson will remain with the team. He’s been with the Athletics as a coach since 2018. After playing college baseball at Pepperdine University, the 46-year-old was drafted by the A’s in the 1995 MLB Draft. He spent the next decade or so with teams such as the A’s, Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers.
You be the judge: Did Ryan Christenson give a Nazi salute?