The year 2020 has seen much pain and anguish across America.
On Sunday, Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, reigniting protests that have sometimes spurred violence.
We have witnessed heated arguments, from the streets to social media. Sports, often seen as an outlet from the political, has now become a leader in shedding a light on racial injustice.
Fast forward to Wednesday, where one NBA playoff team decided to lead a movement that swept through the American sports landscape and may very well go down in the history books as a possible turning point.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Wisconsin’s NBA franchise based just 40 miles from Kenosha, came to a team decision to not play Game 5 of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic. In a matter of hours, all three scheduled NBA playoff contests featuring Milwaukee-Orlando, Oklahoma City-Houston and Los Angeles Lakers-Portland were called off as the players met in a hotel ballroom inside the Orlando bubble on how to move forward, as the NBA playoffs hung in the balance. But for them, what was, and is, happening outside that bubble was more important than a game of basketball. Their commitments had far-reaching effects.
The WNBA, MLS and some MLB games were also called off, as more teams decided to stand as one and not play their beloved sport that night, instead opting to evaluate and reflect on the current situation and how best to use their platform to advance the charge against racial injustice.
One team refuses to play, it probably does not gain as much attention, but many teams joining in across different leagues? That’s a statement.
In today’s politicized world any move will be met with a backlash and this was no exception. From the wearing of t-shirts, to the slogans on the court and now to the refusal to play, these moves have been politicized by some.
“Don’t bring politics into sports.”
“Shut up and dribble.”
Here’s the problem with that. This did not start as political. It only became political because the narrative was created.
Shedding light on racial injustice is not a political statement — it’s a human one. Professional athletes are not just for viewing entertainment pleasure. They are people, just like you and me, with families. They are fed up with what they see going on around them and it’s impossible to ignore. For some of them, the fight is real and personal. They want to use their platform to call attention to a problem. A problem that cannot simply be swept under the rug.
Keep in mind, combating racial injustice in the sports world is not a new concept. This has been going on for centuries and these problems and worries are those that real people face every day. It’s now getting increased attention with the advent of smartphones and social media platforms.
There are too many people in our nation that are concerned for their safety in the presence of law enforcement. That raises the question: Is this who we are? Can we continue to let these things happen to our neighbors and stand idly by?
The fight against racial injustice has been going on long before Kenosha, and it’s high time we start having uncomfortable conversations and start asking uncomfortable questions about how we do things. There is a visible trust gap and we need to bridge that gap.
Let’s use discussion and dialogue instead of distrust and destruction. Let’s try to solve problems.
Perhaps police training needs to be more heavily scrutinized or practices reexamined. It’s going to be on police officers to stand up, call out wrongdoings and say “Hey, that’s not right,” holding themselves and their fellow officers accountable. Let’s try to deescalate rather than escalate.
Understand, though, this is no dig at the police. The majority uphold the law equally and fairly for all, but that’s not the case across the entirety of America. It’s going to be on all people, of all colors, creeds and backgrounds, calling out racial injustice in all forms to begin the process of healing and moving forward. Inch by inch. Step by step.
So the big question is, how do we progress? How do we change for the better? It starts with education and learning. From there, you grow and you be become more aware. And from there, you become involved in the local and national political process, and vote. If something is wrong, you demand action of your elected officials and representatives. Everyone has a voice and everyone has a say. Everyone should care about injustices occurring against their fellow human.
The calls for systematic change are deafening, and not even sports is going to turn a blind eye to it. It is true nothing will change overnight, but change always starts somewhere.
As has been echoed many times “If not now, when?”