On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was needlessly killed by law enforcement officers in Minneapolis. Following this event, it seemed as though American society had been put on pause. Fed up with an event that has become all too common in our country, people (including myself) took to the streets in protest. The ongoing pandemic, sports, and just about everything else had suddenly left everyone’s minds, and for good reason. While many athletes publicly expressed their support of the Black Lives Matter movement, much of their ability to use their platform had vanished due to their seasons being suspended. This time, however, was different. With sports (namely the NBA, NHL, and of course MLB) coming back, the nation’s biggest distraction returned. People no longer had to care or pay attention to politics or social issues if they didn’t want to. And, as reflected by the reactions of many today, a lot of people didn’t want to. Fortunately, however, it doesn’t seem that the athletes themselves would fall into this category. In response to the tragic police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday in Wisconsin, yet another instance of police brutality, players in both the NBA and MLB have decided not to play in their respective games. All three playoff games that were scheduled today in the NBA have been postponed, and several MLB teams have elected not to play (my colleague goes into more detail about it here). While the subject of their protest is obviously quite grim, the act itself is laudable, and gives me hope for sports in the future.
Sports are, as I previously stated, a distraction for many people. No matter what political party you belong to, or what you think about the police, everyone can unite around watching our nation’s pastime! This all sounds well and good until it allows people to lose sight of what’s really important. Sports exists for our entertainment, and nothing more. Police brutality, on the other hand, exists to re-enforce a system of oppression and causes the needless death of countless people. One of these is more important than the other. Constantly retreating to sports as an “escape” is not only counterproductive to fixing issues in broader society, it’s selfish. Regardless of whether or not we want to talk about it, people are going to continue to die if nothing is done. Turning the channel to the Yankees game might take our minds off of politics, but it won’t take seven bullets out of Jacob Blake’s back. Sports being a distraction is often praised as something we need as a society, but right now the last thing we need is a distraction.
While this idea may be lost on the fans critical of their favorite team taking a stand, it thankfully doesn’t seem to be lost on our athletes. To take a step back from the sport that is their livelihood in order to protest injustice is certainly a praiseworthy decision, and it might change how we see sports moving forward. When the NBA decided to restart their season, the players’ ability to protest was a serious point of contention. While allowing them to wear whatever social justice slogan they choose on their jersey, the league insisted that play must continue. The concession seemed inadequate, especially when Miami Heat player Jimmy Butler was forced to change jerseys after attempting to play in a blank jersey. “Protest, but only in a way that’s convenient for us” appeared to be the league policy on the matter. In baseball, on the other hand, the issue never came up as the Players Association had to expend all their energy simply trying to get the players paid. Even in a league often called a “players’ league” like the NBA, it’s an unfortunate power dynamic that exists between players and owners. Today, however, it was out of the owners’ hands.
It has been called a boycott by media all day, but in reality what we’re seeing is a work stoppage. It functions the same as any regular strike, just with different things at stake. If workers at a steel factory go on strike, they realize that they have the power to stop the production of steel at that factory. In turn, they use that power to demand something, usually a higher wage. Players in baseball and basketball are essentially doing the same thing. Instead of controlling steel production, they control America’s distraction from politics. And instead of higher wages or better working conditions, they demand justice for their fellow Americans, and they demand change. While a regular strike aims to affect the wallets of their bosses, this one attempts to get everyone, and I mean everyone, to pay attention. If nothing more, it is a gesture of solidarity not just with the victims of police brutality, but all their fellow Americans seeking change. In a world where athletes have long tried to use their platform for good, I think this is a huge step forward.
So, what does this mean for the future? In the immediate future, baseball and maybe basketball will return soon. People who want to pretend this didn’t happen will probably be able to. However, by no means does that mean this has not accomplished anything. A full work stoppage in sports over social justice is a largely unprecedented move, and there’s no telling when we might see this happen again. Also, the players are more united today than they were yesterday. In the constant battle between the interest of players and that of owners, unity makes them strong. We’ve seen commissioners try to dictate how and when players can protest, and today players decided they didn’t care what the commissioner thinks. Perhaps we see something similar in the NFL, which has unarguably been the toughest league on players protesting. The sacrifice Colin Kaepernick made was not in vain, and I think we’re starting to see why.
Even more important than the players’ relationship with owners, I believe this is a step toward a world where sports and greater society are inextricably linked. A lot of people think this is a negative development, but I think a world in which we are forced to tackle society’s problems head-on is a good one. Athletes aren’t elected officials, and there’s only so much they can do to bring about change. But I think it’s safe to say right now that they’re doing just about all they can to help. Seeing that makes me reflect whether I am doing all I can to help, and I hope it has the same effect on you.
In the end, you don’t have to have agreed with anything I just said. You also don’t have to agree with anything these athletes are standing for. However, seeing a group of players come together to express a common sentiment makes me proud as a fan of the sport. I wish I could put it into more articulate phrasing, but it’s just an awesome thing to see. Just like anyone, they’re expressing how they feel, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Featured Photo: Major League Baseball (@MLB) / Twitter