PITTSBURGH – Josh Bell wanted to make a statement with his actions, a way to channel the disgust the Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman felt in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May.
Yet as the crowds surged in downtown Pittsburgh last month during a planned peaceful protest, he fought the urge to join in.
He couldn't help but notice the helicopters buzzing. He checked the Internet and saw what began with a positive vibe had shifted to something darker. Wary of the optics and the fallout, Bell, who is Black, heeded the advice of his girlfriend.
“(She told me) ‘You’re going to make a lot more impact with your platform than going to this riot right now. That’s how people get hurt. That’s where the conversation turns bad," Bell said on Saturday. “'Josh Bell is at a protest is a good thing. But Josh Bell is at a riot is a terrible thing. That’s something that could change your career in a heartbeat.’”
And not the kind of change the 27-year-old All-Star from Texas wants to impart. He watched what happened to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2017 when he chose to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Kaepernick's message got lost amid outcry over the method he chose to express it. It's something Bell wants desperately to avoid.
“In regards to where he wanted to conversation to go, that got shut down pretty much from the get go and his career was forever changed from that,” Bell said. “So that was where a lot of players felt silenced. A lot of players were like, ‘Well, shoot.’”
This time things feel different. There is a groundswell of support across races and ages. And Bell is intent on being a part of it. Reticent by nature, Bell is growing more comfortable in his role as the face of a franchise whose history is filled with players of color that made a difference far beyond the field.
Roberto Clemente. Willie Stargell. Andrew McCutchen. Now, Bell believes it's his turn.