Why Are Sports Leagues Striking for Black Lives?

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The sports world has erupted in protest in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. On August 26, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks decided not to participate in their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic. The Bucks made an official statement that their focus cannot be on basketball, especially since Blake’s shooting was too close to home — Kenosha is located approximately 40 miles from Milwaukee.

After the NBA canceled its playoff games, other leagues decided to follow suit. The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and Major League Soccer (MLS) all called off some games. The NBA and the WNBA postponed their games the day after the NBA canceled its playoff games, as did the National Hockey League (NHL) and some baseball teams.

The NBA strike

The spring and summer protests after George Floyd’s death have made their way into professional basketball. Since the NBA restarted its season following its coronavirus-induced pause, some basketball courts have displayed Black Lives Matter slogans. Many individual players have used their platforms to bring awareness to racial justice protests as well. Players have been wearing jerseys with league-approved catchphrases related to the Black Lives Matter movement, words such as “equality,” and phrases including “say her name”.

Other games that the ongoing NBA strike has affected include the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers postponed their games on August 26. Additionally, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, postponed their games on August 26. In regards to the strike, Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry tweeted, “Some things are bigger than basketball.”

The WNBA strike

On the same day that the NBA announced it would postpone games in protest of Blake’s shooting, WNBA athlete and WNBPA secretary Elizabeth Williams of the Atlanta Dream made a public statement that WNBA players would standing in solidarity. According to Williams, WNBA players wanted to protest with their “brothers in the NBA” and decided they would not play the three games scheduled for the evening of August 26.

A broadcast from the August 26 Atlanta Dream game showed players from six WNBA teams in locked arms and kneeling while wearing shirts spelling out Blake’s name. On August 27, the WNBA announced the postponement of the day’s three scheduled games. Instead of playing, the entire league of WNBA players stood arm-in-arm.

The MLB strike

Following the NBA’s lead, the MLB decided to cancel games as well. On August 27, the Miami Marlins and the New York Mets walked off the diamond at Citi Field. A t-shirt that stated “Black Lives Matter” was left spread across the home plate. This game was one of seven that protesting players ultimately got postponed in response to Jacob Blake’s shooting.

Other leagues that have stood in solidarity

In addition to the NBA, WNBA, and MLB, players from around the MLS declined to play in protest of Blake’s shooting and racial injustice. The NHL also decided to postpone games after the league received criticism for playing three playoff games on August 26. The NHL thus postponed all playoff games on August 27 and 28.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka voluntarily dropped out of her semifinal match before the next day’s games in the Western & Southern Open in New York. Officials suspended play of the match as a result. Osaka tweeted that she believes “there are much more important matters at hand” than watching her play tennis.

The effect of sports leagues’ protesting

On the night of the NBA postponing its playoff games, MLB players reacted too. New York Mets outfielder Dominic Smith said he was dismayed that his team and players on the Miami Marlins’ roster did not consider joining the boycott sooner. Smith said it’s evident to him too many people “still don’t care” about police brutality. He took a knee during the national anthem for the first time before the August 26 game.

In the NHL, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba gave a speech on August 26 about racial injustice and the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He stated players must stand up and use their platform to make a change – as many athletes have already begun to do.

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