NBA & NFL Leagues Strike
by Abby Zimet, courtesy of CommonDreams.org –
Declaring “some things are bigger than basketball” in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake and too many more, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their latest NBA playoff game in a wildcat strike that quickly swept through the ranks of other largely black sports teams, virtually shutting down pro sports in what some called “a huge cultural inflection point.”
The historic NBA boycott, the first in 60 years, came as Trump said he would send federal troops to “restore LAW and ORDER!” to Kenosha WI, where Blake was shot seven times in the back as his kids watched and screamed, because to an ever-blindly-racist GOP, LAW and ORDER means cracking down on black protesters but abetting the crimes of white killer cops and vigilantes.
In many ways, the initial Bucks walkout seems pretty predictable: Blake was shot just a few dozen miles from their training facility. In 2018 the Bucks forward, Sterling Brown, was tased and arrested by Milwaukee police who were never charged. The NBA has a long history of activism, from basketball players donning “I can’t breathe” t-shirts for Eric Garner to marching in George Floyd and Breonna Taylor protests to setting up racial justice non-profits like megastar LeBron James’ More Than a Vote.
The team was scheduled to play the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, August 26, 2020 in their playoff series when they failed to emerge from the locker room. Shortly after they officially declared they would not play, the Magic said they wouldn’t accept the Bucks’ forfeit in solidarity. That sense of a shared trauma and mission swiftly spread. One Bucks executive tweeted, “Some things are bigger than basketball. Enough is enough — change needs to happen.”
Within hours, the NBA announced they had cancelled the day’s other three games, with the future of the rest of the NBA season in doubt; the NFL’s Detroit Lions walked out of practice in a show of solidarity; the Milwaukee Brewers Major League Baseball team said it was cancelling at least five games and considering future actions; the National Basketball Referees Association lent their support to players, likewise arguing, “There are more important issues in our country than basketball; and the Washington Mystics’ women’s pro basketball team came to practice in shirts that spelled out Jacob Blake, with the back of each featuring seven fake bullet holes for the real ones in Blake’s back.
Amidst ongoing police killings, the long-political Mystics had only agreed to play this season if the WNBA stepped up with social justice actions. They also dedicated the season to Breonna Taylor, put her name on the back of players’ jerseys, and held several demonstrations to honor her and encourage fans to vote. On Wednesday, they issued a statement saying they’d collectively decided not to play. In a league made up of at least 80% black women, they said, “We aren’t just basketball players… When we go home, most of us are Black.”
LeBron “King” James has long reached outside the bubble of pro sports to highlight that reality. After the news broke of Blake’s shooting, he tweeted, “FUCK THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.” The recipient of Laura Ingraham’s famed, crude order to “shut up and dribble,” James insists on his right to “use my platform, use my voice” in a racist, gun-crazed America where, “Right now for black people, when you’re hunting, we think you’re hunting us.” His heart-wrenching bottom line: “We are scared as black people in America… Black men, black women, black kids, we are terrified.”
In a final irony, despite constant criticism of black protests deemed violent or otherwise not acceptable, many on social media expressed outrage athletes are now speaking their well-paid minds in the most peaceful way possible, because players boycotting games is evidently still more upsetting than a black man getting shot seven times in the back.
“It’s amazing we keep loving this country and this country doesn’t love us back.” ~ Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers in a raw, mournful “thunderbolt cry for justice.”