An empty court where the NBA playoffs were set to continue on Wednesday night in the Orlando bubble

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The shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday reignited the embers still burning from the death of George Floyd just three months ago.

Once again, athletes have joined activist groups calling for justice and reform to prevent these types of occurrences from being so common in our society. On Wednesday, NBA teams started a movement that extended to other sports (including the NFL, MLB, and WNBA), all cancelling games and practices in light of the incident that has left Jacob Blake paralyzed from one of seven bullets fired into his back by a Wisconsin police officer from point blank range, one of them severing his spinal cord.

The Milwaukee Bucks were the first team to announce that they would not participate in their playoff game on Wednesday. The team addressed the media with a unified statement explaining how and why they came to their decision. George Hill and Sterling Brown acted as spokespeople for the organization, and shortly after the league made the decision to postpone all games on the schedule for that day.

Hill stated, "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 protestors. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball."


George Hill and Sterling Brown read Milwaukee Bucks statement after deciding not to play www.youtube.com


The NBA held an emergency Board of Governors meeting on Thursday to figure out the logistics of resuming the playoffs and determining the best course of action, if the postseason were to continue. At first, there seemed to be no guarantee that the NBA would be able to resume, as the Lakers and Clippers both voted to boycott the remainder of the season, but it appears that the NBA will resume with games beginning to be played as early as Friday August 28.

The shooting of Jacob Blake may seem to be just another story of a Black man being treated with unnecessary and deadly force by a police officer in America–but this case is more than that. Athletes taking a stand to actually sit out is a show of solidarity and, while not unprecedented, it isn't something that has happened often in history. Elle Duncan of ESPN pointed out that the last time we saw an NBA game boycotted was in 1961 when Bill Russell and a few members of the Boston Celtics refused to play in an exhibition game due to racial injustice. Fast forward 59 years, and we find the stars of the league still trying to achieve equality on many fronts.

Yet, a segment of Americans still believe that athletes have no place to speak about political or social issues–at least not publicly. In response to Wednesday's boycott, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, stated in an interview with CNN, "If they want to protest, I don't think we care," which resonates with the infamous words of Fox News' Laura Ingraham to LeBron James: "shut up and dribble." Even some activists would prefer that athletes not use their platform to help the cause of social justice, as they think it may detract from the cause.

But the fact of the matter is that modern athletes have a platform because of their celebrity. With a single tweet, LeBron James reaches millions of people from across the globe. The NBA, for better or worse, has been very progressive in allowing its players to openly express their opinions, which has resulted in the league experiencing a surge in popularity and turning its stars into wealthy and influential people in society.

The act of boycotting games takes the attention away from the sport and places it directly on the issue that these men and women want light shed upon. A boycott means we won't have box scores to go through and highlights to retweet. We will have to ask the question, "Why aren't they playing?" In regards to the Black Lives Matter movement and achieving racial equality, athletes are a leading voice, especially for America's youth. They have the ability to reach their followers and keep momentum going to enact real change in bringing about equality for all in this country. Politicians have pushed for sports to resume and carry out their seasons amid the pandemic for seemingly no other reason than to provide a distraction from what's going on and to facilitate a sense of normalcy–in other words, to continue the status quo.

Only recently does it seem that society as a whole is asking questions like why is injustice happening? And how can we change it? In an interview on ESPN Radio, NFL Executive VP of Football Operations, Troy Vincent, was very emotional speaking about the boycotts on Wednesday. Vincent referenced how proud he was of the young athletes of today for taking a stance on social inequality, and he stated that he wished he had thought to do something similar during his playing days. Vincent went on to talk about his own (black) children and his struggle as a black father raising black sons, and his fear of them being "hunted" based on the color of their skin.

Within the sports world, Vincent's comments go a long way to show how long racial inequality has been an issue for the Black community and how even a wealthy and prominent Black man in America continues to worry for his children (ages 22, 20, and 15) out in the world where he, as a father, can't protect them.

Troy Vincent's emotional reaction to protests in the sports world | Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin www.youtube.com


As of Thursday afternoon, the NBA and other professional sports leagues appear to be on track to go on as planned, but the voices of its biggest stars and social activists will continue to be heard. It's not just players, but coaches like Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and Doc Rivers, along with Kenny Smith of TNT's Inside the NBA have been vocal in their support of Black Lives Matter. Public outcry against events like the shooting of Jacob Blake only helps the cause to grow stronger, amplifying strong voices in the movement towards racial equality in America.

Bogdan Bogdanovic

USA Today

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