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Players Lead Sports Strike to Put Focus on Racial Injustice

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2020

Four years to the day after Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem of an NFL preseason game to protest the oppression of Black people in the United States, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their NBA playoff game and set off an NBA-wide strike, as well as strikes by teams in the WNBA, MLB, and MLS. They were reacting to the attempted murder of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer on Sunday and the subsequent inaction by officials to take any disiplinary action against the officer.

The shooting prompted numerous N.B.A. players and coaches to express frustration and anger that the various measures they have been taking for weeks to support the Black Lives Matter movement, such as kneeling during the national anthem and wearing jerseys bearing social justice messages, were having little impact. Some also began to question, as the Nets’ star guard Kyrie Irving did in June before the 2019-20 season resumed, whether providing entertainment through basketball was actually diverting public attention away from the broader social justice movement.

Fueled by that frustration, Milwaukee’s players stunned league officials by organizing Wednesday’s boycott, a walkout that had virtually no precedent in N.B.A. history.

Milwaukee’s George Hill gave a glimpse of the Bucks’ mind-set on Monday when he openly questioned whether the league’s return had successfully amplified the players’ messaging.

“We shouldn’t have even come to this damn place to be honest,” Hill said. “I think coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are.”

Former NBA player Kenny Smith walked off the set of TNT’s Inside the NBA in solidarity with the players.

As a reminder, here’s what Kaepernick said after kneeling four years ago:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

You can see why the players believe that little has been done to address this state of affairs — there’s definitely more awareness now, but substantive change is not happening.

Update: A previous version of this post referred to the players’ walkout as a boycott (following the Times’ language). While boycott is technically accurate, it is generally used to refer to consumers withholding their purchase power as a protest. Strike is a more exact word to use in a situation where workers are withholding their labor (even though the players are not demanding concessions from their employers), so I updated the post to reflect that. (thx, david)