On March 11 earlier this year, the NBA suspended the season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Soon after, the NHL suspended its season, the NCAA March Madness tournament never happened, and nearly the entire international sports world slowed to a halt, all due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, on August 27, the American sports world has stopped again. For an entirely different reason.
Yesterday, the Milwaukee Bucks were set to play their fifth playoff game against the Orlando Magic. The Bucks, who’s arena is a short distance away from Kenosha, Wisconsin, never took the court and decided to boycott their game as a form of protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times by Kenosha police. Soon after, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets announced they would be boycotting their playoff game, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers followed suite as well.
The boycott soon emanated across all American sports; in the MLB, the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Fransisco Giants have all cancelled their games scheduled for today. The WNBA has postponed their slate of Thursday games. Tennis start Naomi Osaka announced she would be pulling out of the semifinals of the WTA Western & Southern Open, and multiple teams in the NFL have discussed postponing their practices and scrimmages.
The NBA has seen only one boycott prior to yesterday in the history of the league. In 1961, Bill Russell boycotted a game against the St. Louis Hawks to protest racial injustice, as did his fellow black teammates on the Boston Celtics, and the black players on the hawks.
Now, nearly sixty years later, that same fight is still being carried out. However, one major difference separates Russell’s protest from the one that occurred last night: the game in 1961 still went ahead without the black players who were boycotting. Last night, the entire sports world responded to the boycott.
For fans lamenting the loss of sports for the second time this year, you are missing the point. Yes, it would be great if sports could be a constant presence in all of our lives. But how could these athletes ignore the racial injustices and violence that plagues our, and largely their, communities? Outside of their glamorous lives on the courts and fields, black athletes have to deal with racial inequality the same as the average black person. For white fans such as myself, watching the horrific video of the Jacob Blake shooting is utterly heartbreaking. For black players, coaches and fans, it is a scary reality.
Last night during a players only meeting following the protests, the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, two favorites to win the championship this year, voiced their opinions about cancelling the rest of the season altogether. Not everyone in the league was united in that opinion, and no final decision has yet to be made. The players need to draw up a unified agenda and figure out exactly what their goal is in their boycott. The next few days will be critical in determining in the NBA will continue, but more importantly it could be critical in producing true change.
All eyes are on the NBA, and the rest of the sports world. Many questions still remain, and the story will continue to develop throughout the rest of the day and the week. Right now, fans should stop worrying about appreciating the dazzling feats of athleticism, teamwork and resilience that athletes display night in and night out, and appreciate the courage and bravery that athletes have been demonstrating in the past eighteen hours. They have put their financial interests on hold in order to try to bring about positive change nationwide. Hopefully politicians and corporations can take a lesson from the athletes.