By Luke Mich
On Aug. 23, a video showed police shooting a Black man named Jacob Blake in the back seven times as Blake walked away from the officers toward the front door of his car. The video went viral, trending in all news outlets and social media platforms. Protests against police brutality and racial injustice, already prevalent in American cities throughout the past three months, began to spike again. Kenosha, Wis., the location of the shooting, immediately saw protests after the video was released, and they have continued each night up to this date (Sept. 10). However, what most caught my attention during the middle of the week after the Blake incident has been the temporary postponement of nearly all American events, which began Aug. 26 when the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their afternoon opening round Game 5 against the Orlando Magic.
It should come as no surprise that the first team not to play because of the incident was the Bucks, nor that the first professional sports league to postpone play was the NBA. Milwaukee is roughly 40 miles north of Kenosha, and the NBA arguably has been the most political professional sports league in North America. This postseason alone, the league has painted the words “Black Lives Matter” on all of the basketball courts and allowed players to display a message on their jerseys regarding the movement against racial inequality. Additionally, all NBA players, coaches, referees, and staff (with a few exceptions) have knelt for the national anthem, against league rules, in solidarity with the movement, but with no repercussions.
Following the cancelled games on Aug. 26 the league held a meeting, which proved to be very tense. Players left the meeting early in frustration, two teams voted to cancel the season outright, and reporters noted that the resumption of the season was in jeopardy. While the league eventually reached a deal the next day to resume the season on Aug. 29, the biggest question is this: Was the temporary postponement worth it?
Undoubtedly, the commitments that the NBA and the National Basketball Players’ Association (NBPA) agreed to in order to resume the postseason are impressive. Per Bleacher Report, the NBA will establish a social justice coalition that includes representatives from players, coaches and governors; team arenas will be converted into voting places for the upcoming 2020 general elections; and advertisements to encourage voting will be created and shown during future NBA games.
Although all of these actions have been agreed upon, they have only led to a greater divide between the NBA and a large portion of its fans. Many sports enthusiasts use sports as an escape from the real world, a world plagued with disheartening national headlines each day, whether it be another milestone COVID-19 has hit, a tragic shooting such as Blake’s, or riots, lootings, and killings that have occurred during protests. Decisions like this from the NBA and its players only remind viewers of such events, and therefore a strong dislike for the NBA has emerged. Viewership has declined substantially this postseason compared to past years, and notable NBA players have talked the talk, but have not walked the walk.
If the players really are affected by these unfortunate examples of police brutality and racial inequality, then why don’t they donate a significant portion of their multi-million-dollar salaries to such causes, fans cry out? Why do they act like they are the victims too, despite living in hundred-million-dollar mansions, and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars by just playing a few minutes of the sport they love? I will agree that there is tension and unrest between races, and that the persistent problem of racial inequality needs to be addressed and solved as soon as possible, but the players themselves, the ones who demand action, are well-positioned to contribute more to the cause.
The NBA has done and achieved a lot through their meeting back on Aug. 27. The question is, how far will the NBA follow through before the risk of losing fans and viewers becomes a real concern for the league? A Harris Poll shows that 39% of sports fans say they are watching fewer games, the main reason being that the league has become “too political.” The league has done well on its commitments, but must accept the risks that will come with action.