LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - Players from the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks opted not to play in a playoff game scheduled for Wednesday night in order to call attention to injustices against the African American community and call for lawmakers and law enforcement to institute meaningful changes.
The decision had wide-ranging reverberations throughout the country, and by the end of the night the other two scheduled NBA games were postponed, as were all three Women’s National Basketball Association games, three Major League Baseball games and five Major League Soccer Games as players expressed the importance of protesting injustice over playing games. Tennis player Naomi Osaka also announced she would not play her Thursday semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open, and officials later postponed all tournament play for Thursday.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ action came in direct response to events in the city of Kenosha, about 60 kilometers away, where on Sunday police shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, as well as ongoing frustrations about the history of police brutality and racial inequality in the United States.
“The past four months we've witnessed multiple injustices regarding the African American community,” the players said in a statement. “Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings. Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we've seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protesters. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
The Bucks called for the officers involved in Blake’s shooting to be held accountable, and for the Wisconsin legislature to take action to address “police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”
“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement,” the players said.
‘Sick of it'
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, among the most high-profile players in the league, tweeted: “WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
Players from the WNBA joined to kneel, lock arms and raise their fists in a show of solidarity on the night they chose not to play.
“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,” Atlanta Dream player Elizabeth Williams read in a statement from all of the players.
The WNBA players urged fans to use their voting power and to become engaged on the issues in order to make a difference.
“Your voice matters. Your vote matters. Do all you can to demand that your leaders stop with the empty words and do something,” the players said.
Wednesday’s actions were not as widespread in Major League Baseball. The three games postponed included the Cincinnati Reds playing the Brewers in Milwaukee, the Seattle Mariners at the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers at the San Francisco Giants.
Dodgers star Mookie Betts, who is Black, said he was prepared to sit out even if his team went ahead with Wednesday’s game, but that his teammates “all were by my side.”
“For me, I think no matter what, I wasn’t going to play tonight," Betts said.
‘There are serious issues in this country’
Dee Gordon, a Black man who plays for Seattle, said his entire team made the decision not to play.
“There are serious issues in this country,” Gordon tweeted. “For me, and for many of my teammates, the injustices, violence, death and systemic racism is deeply personal. This is impacting not only my community, but very directly my family and friends. Our team voted unanimously not to play tonight. Instead of watching us, we hope people will focus on the things more important than sports that are happening.”
Osaka posted a statement saying that above being an athlete, she is a Black woman, and that there are more important things right now than her playing tennis.
“I don't expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction,” Osaka said. “Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I'm exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I'm extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?”
U.S. President Barack Obama said he commends the Bucks “for standing for what they believe in,” as well Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers and the rest of the NBA and WNBA “for setting an example.”
“It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values,” Obama said.
Wednesday marked four years since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained national attention for not standing during the playing of the national anthem before his team’s preseason game.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said after the 2016 game. His teammate, Eric Reid, said that in the weeks that followed, after consideration and speaking with a former player who had served in the U.S. Army, the two decided to kneel during the anthem as their form of protest.
Other football players joined, as did those in other leagues, and the protests took altered forms including players not coming onto a field or court during the anthem or locking arms with teammates. There has been sharp criticism from those who say the protests taking place during the anthem are disrespectful to the country and the military, including from President Donald Trump.
Seven red dots
Players have repeatedly stressed that what they are doing is raising awareness of police brutality and racial inequality.
Some athletes have also decided to forgo playing at all in order to focus their time on reform efforts. WNBA star Maya Moore is skipping her second consecutive season as she works on criminal justice reform. Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics took this season off to focus on social reform as well.
Cloud posted a picture Wednesday night of her Mystics teammates who arrived at the arena where they were due to play wearing t-shirts that together spelled out Jacob Blake’s name. On the back were seven red dots.
Cloud wrote that she is proud her teammates and that athletes, whether they like it or not, have a responsibility to “use our platforms and be a voice for the voiceless.”
“When we take those jerseys off WE ARE BLACK and because of that we are not valued and our lives are constantly threatened. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH,” Cloud said. “ You don't get to sit and watch sports and ignore what's happening in this country. You don't get to be entertained by black men and women on the court/field, and then NOT care what happens to us and our families off those surfaces. HEAR US, SEE US, FEEL US WHEN WE SAY WE ARE TIRED.”
The NBA, WNBA and MLS said the games not played Wednesday will be rescheduled at a time to be determined. The three postponed MLB games were rescheduled for Thursday.