On August 26, 2016, Colin Kaepernick knelt for the first time to bring attention to the issues of racial inequality and police brutality that plague America. In 2020, on the same date, professional athletes are still using their platform to bring attention to the same issues in the form of a boycott.
After 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back on Sunday by Rusten Sheskey, an officer of the Kenosha Police Department, there was outrage. Miraculously Blake survived, but there is a possibility that he will be paralyzed for the rest of his life. There were no public actions or comments from law enforcement officials for days, and on Wednesday the Milwaukee Bucks decided to say enough is enough and boycott their playoff game against the Orlando Magic.
Milwaukee is just 40 miles away from Kenosha.
The boycott by the Bucks started a ripple effect through professional sports leagues. First, the NBA called off the other two playoff games – the Oklahoma City Thunder versus the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Portland Trail Blazers. It was only the second time in NBA history that games have been boycotted. The first boycott in 1961, led by Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, was also in the name of racial justice. Nearly 60 years later, professional athletes are still advocating for the issue.
Eleven-time NBA champion Russell turned to Twitter to express his thoughts on the 2020 boycott, telling players to “keep getting in good trouble,” and that he was moved by their actions.
If fans want to know more about what the NBA players are demanding, they can read the messages that have been displayed on their jerseys since the league restarted earlier this month.
Royce O’Neale of the Utah Jazz, whose father is from St. Croix and who is registered to play for the U.S. Virgin Islands National Team, has been wearing the message of equality on his jersey. When given the option to wear a message on their jersey for games, 76 players in the league opted to display messages of equality. Other common messages on the backs of players’ jerseys have been: Black Lives Matter, Peace, Respect Us, How Many More, Education Reform and Vote.
The WNBA postponed three games, but the players also came onto the court to send a message. They kneeled and raised their fists during what would’ve been the National Anthem before the first game of the night. Players from the Washington Mystics wore white T-shirts that spelled out Jacob Blake on the front and had seven holes in the back.
Elizabeth Williams, a center for the Atlanta Dream, read a statement on behalf of the WNBA. Williams said, “We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA and will continue this conversation with our brothers and sisters across all leagues and look to take collective action. What we have seen over the last few months, and most recently with the brutal police shooting of Jacob Blake, is overwhelming. While we hurt for Jacob and his community, we also have an opportunity to keep the focus on the issues and demand change.”
The Milwaukee Brewers were the first Major League Baseball team to boycott their game as a show of solidarity. Two more games in professional baseball were called off last night. Brent Suter, a pitcher for the Brewers said, “Our game took a back seat tonight for issues that are much more important. Our hearts are with all those who are hurting.”
Major League Soccer postponed five games last night. In a statement, the league said, “The entire Major League Soccer family unequivocally condemns racism and has always stood for equality, but we need to do more to take tangible steps to impact change. We will continue to work with our players, our clubs and the broader soccer community to harness our collective power to fight for equality and social justice.”
In tennis, after Naomi Osaka said she wouldn’t be playing in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open, the tournament announced there would be no matches played until Friday.
The impact of these protests from professional sports leagues has been felt. A couple of hours after the initial action by the Bucks, more light was shed on the Blake shooting when Wisconsin law officials broke their three-day silence and commented on the event. Later in the evening, the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed there will be a federal investigation into the shooting.
Sources told ESPN that shortly after the protest that Bucks players were on the phone with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. After that call players then read a statement explaining their reasoning and their demands.
The players demanded that the Wisconsin State Legislature reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform. This demand caught the attention of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Twitter, and he said he couldn’t agree more.
The response and the full video of the team’s statement can be found here.
Boycotting athletes have made their voices loud and clear, and they are saying that changes need to be made in the United States. Professional sports could be on pause until more is done. Los Angeles Laker J.R. Smith said, “You don’t hear us, well now you can’t see us!”