On August 26 major league sports stopped. Not because of the global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on organized sports since late winter. Not because of a disagreement between players and owners regarding wages or the logistics of a season. Instead, the world of major league sports went dark to shine light on the athletes who make up their teams.
For those listening, the silence left behind in empty arenas and stadiums gave way to powerful statements about social justice and racial equality.
Instead of the score of these games being consigned to the end of news broadcasts, the players’ decision to protest became breaking news headlines. This was, of course, not the first time that athletes have used their platform to protest.
Sports as Platform for Social Activism
On August 26, 2016, San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand up during the national anthem at a preseason game. Kaepernick said he would “not show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Kaepernick wanted to use his platform as an athlete to advocate for social justice and equality for the nation’s most marginalized racial minorities — most notably black Americans and people of color. However, the tremendous personal and professional backlash he received effectively ended his career.
Exactly four years later, the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to take the court for their playoff game in direct response to the police shooting a black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back in the aftermath of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
Within hours, all NBA and WNBA teams scheduled to play that night followed suit and boycotted the game. Three MLB games and five MLS games were also postponed in an unprecedented show of support across major league sports platforms.
Both nothing and everything has changed in those four years.
Incidents of police brutality against black Americans continue to rise. Black men are approximately 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a police officer in the US than their white counterparts. This accounts for 1.6 percent of all deaths of Black men aged 20-24.
No More Silence
Civil rights attorney Alexis J. Hoag argued that the dehumanization of Black people is so ingrained within the criminal justice system that society now accepts the use of extreme violence as an effective tactic:
“…the defendant was ‘circling’ and ‘hunting’ the victim. What hunts and circles? Animals. When you can dehumanize an individual, of course, you can put them away for a long time, you can sentence them to death. And of course, you can put your knee on somebody’s neck for nine minutes, because you see them as less than human.”
Combine this with a global pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black people at a rate that is nine times higher than white Americans and one could certainly argue that America’s Black community is experiencing a crisis of epic proportions.
Yet, the world has largely remained silent — at least in the ways that really matter. The Black Lives Matter movement permeated social media, yet where are the criminal reform and public health policies to protect black Americans?
Doc Rivers, the head coach of the LA Clippers, gave an emotional postgame interview in August in which he said, “It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back…We got to do better. But we got to demand better.”
His interview resonated in a way like never before. Why? The statistics about COVID-19 and its effect on the Black community and the lack of meaningful criminal justice reform after a spate of highly publicized, extremely violent attacks on Black people indicate a view of the community as being expendable. Black lives matter, but apparently not as much as white lives. Or, at least, that’s how it would appear based on recent events in our country.
The Day That Sports Reappeared
However, when America clamored for the return of live sports as a reprieve from the global pandemic, it became apparent that there is at least one area in which Black lives are not expendable, where they do matter: professional sports.
We asked NBA players to leave their families and communities behind in the midst of this crisis and seclude themselves in a “bubble” away from everything else that matters in their lives. They risked their health so that they could entertain us and provide a break from the grim reality of 2020.
Live sports became our salvation, and simultaneously it became the largest platform in the world for athletes to give voice to the voiceless— — the people in the Black community who live in fear, far away from the bubble that protects professional athletes.
Athletes have long complained that they are expected to “stick to their sport,” to be seen and not heard. Yet ironically, it was the absence of their presence that will ultimately speak the loudest. The unified stand taken across major league sports cannot be ignored. The financial, political, and social ramifications will be felt long after the games that were “postponed.”
On August 26, 2020, athletics became synonymous with activism. There were no televised games but the revolution was most certainly televised.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.