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Shea Bridge

Professional Athletes Strike over Police Brutality

Stop calling it a boycott; they witheld their labor over the shooting of Jacob Blake

Brian Young's picture
Aug 27, 2020

A strike is when a worker withholds their labor to address a grievance. Here athletes are not playing. Them playing is their labor. A boycott is when decides not to spend their money or go to an establishment. Calling this a boycott instead of a strike is simply wrong.

Following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, protest once again erupted across the country. Earlier in the week, the Green Bay Packers team, coach, and players put out statements about the shooting. However, after the murder of two Black Lives Matter protestors, professional athletes in multiple leagues have essential declared a wildcat strike and are refusing to play in support of Black Lives Matter.

While the strike started with the Milwaukee Bucks refusing to take the court before their first-round game with the Orlando Magic, NBA players had been expressing their concerns since Monday. “Why does it always have to get to the point where we see the guns firing?” said Los Angeles Lakers star and former NBPA Vice President LeBron James. “My emotions are all over the place.”

The next night LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers, the son of a police officer, said “We keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.”

With this anger and frustration, players arrived at the court on Wednesday to play and began talking about what they would do in response. The Bucks went through their media routine and some players warmed up on the court, but minutes before the 4 PM tip, the players decided they would not be taking the court. The Bucks, who play just 45 minutes from where the Blake shooting occurred in Kenosha Wisconsin, felt like enough was enough. They said they would sacrifice a playoff game, but then an amazing thing happened, other teams joined their protest. The Magic refused to accept the forfeit and two other NBA games were postponed as a result. Their strike also began to ripple across other sports.

Within hours MLB had been forced to cancel three games including one between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. The Milwaukee Brewers also refused to play, with former league MVP Christian Yelich saying “There comes a time where you have to live it, you have to step up—you can’t just wear these shirts and think that’s all well and good and when it comes time to act on it or make a stand or make a statement you can’t just not do it. And that’s what we decided here today. Us coming here together, collectively as a group—making a stand, making a statement for change for making the world a better place, for equality, for doing the right thing.”

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Brewer's union rep, reliever Brent Suter, then reached out to the Reds reps to explain what was going to happen and why it was so important for the Brewers players to take a stand. The Reds agreed, which caused the game to be postponed instead of forfeited.

Other black players across the league, including Jason Heyward, Matt Kemp, Dexter Fowler, and Jack Flaherty refused to play and in New York, Mets outfielder Dominic Smith took a knee during the national anthem. In a press conference after the game, Smith was holding back tears as he said “It was a long day for me. I think the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care. For this to continuously happen, it just shows the hate in people’s heart. Being a Black man in America – it’s not easy.”

Other sports also joined the strike. The WNBA joined the NBA in canceling all of their games on Wednesday. Atlanta Dream player Elizabeth Williams read a statement on ESPN saying that the “consensus is not to play in tonight’s games. 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,” said Williams, the secretary of the players' union.

Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka reached the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open on Wednesday and withdrew a few hours later in a call for racial justice, drawing quick support from other players. Soon after, the whole tournament was put on hold for a day.

“As a sport, tennis is collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust to the forefront in the United States. The USTA, ATP Tour, and WTA have decided to recognize this moment in time by pausing tournament play at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday, Aug. 27," the three organizations said in a statement.

A few hours after the Bucks game was scheduled to start, two Bucks players came out to address the media. “There has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” said Bucks guard Sterling Brown, who joined teammate George Hill in reading a statement on the team’s behalf. Brown has a federal lawsuit pending against the city of Milwaukee alleging he was targeted because he was Black and that his civil rights were violated in January 2018 when officers used a stun gun on him after a parking violation.

On Thursday, ESPN reported that players held a meeting and agreed to resume the season as early as Friday, meaning that Thursday’s playoff game will be canceled. The players are also meeting to formulate an action plan to address racial injustice issues. Baseball is scheduled to make up the missed games as part of a doubleheader on Thursday, although the league is preparing for the possibility of more cancelations. Baseball is also in a tough spot as Jackie Robinson Day, the day that honors the first Black player to break the league’s color barrier, is scheduled for Friday.

Whether or not sports continue, players are expected to speak out more and more about racial justice. It seems the days of players "shutting up and playing" are gone. Until a real change is achieved it seems like more strikes and actions are inevitable.  

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