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Black athletes go on strike, forcing white fans to deal with policing and White Supremacy, again!

August 27, 2020

“Black athletes should take all this fame the white man gave to us because we fought for his entertainment, and we can turn it around. Instead of beating up each other, we will use our fame for freedom.”

The statement above is from former Heavyweight boxer Muhammed Ali in the late 1960s, after the boxing commission had stripped him of his boxing crown.

Yesterday, we witnessed once again how athletes, especially Black athletes, are using the status, their high profiles, their fame, in the cause of freedom. The Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball team decided that they could not play their schedule playoff game against the Orlando Magic, just days after the police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back in Kenosha Wisconsin.

Instead of playing basketball, the Milwaukee Bucks players read a statement to the news media:

“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American communities. Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings. 

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.

When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.

We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform. We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action, and remember to vote on Nov. 3.”

This action by the Bucks players led to the cancellation of the other two NBA playoff games last night, with player from other teams stating that they were also refusing to play basketball as long as police continue to murder Black people.

This demonstration of solidarity was then taken up by the WNBA, the Women’s National Basketball Association, who also refused to play in the games that were scheduled for Wednesday, August 26th. The WNBA players also released a statement that read:

“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. What we have seen over the last few months, and most recently with the brutal police shooting of Jacob Blake, is overwhelming. And while we hurt for Jacob and his community, we also have an opportunity to keep the focus on the issues and demand change. These moments are why it’s important for our fans to stay focused, hear our voices, know our hearts and connect the dots from what we say to what we do.”

The ripple effects of solidarity didn’t end there. Several Major League Baseball games were cancelled, because Black players took a stand against the police shooting of Jacob Blake. According to a reporter with ESPN, “Mookie Betts, Dave Roberts, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen are standing side by side in San Francisco addressing the media. Betts said he wasn’t going to play regardless. Once that was the case, Kershaw said, the team rallied around him.”

In addition, while the NFL is not yet playing games, teams are in the midst of practicing, in preparation for the regular season to start. Yesterday, the New York Giants delayed their scheduled practice, because the players wanted to have a frank conversation about the police murder of Jacob Blake. On Tuesday, the Detroit Lions football team decided to cancelled their practice as a protest against the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

It seems that athletes across the country are using their fame, as Ali once said, to not only protest yet another police murder of a Black person, but by refusing to play, they are going on strike. Professional athletes are employees of the team owners, thus their collective refusal to play, which will financially hurt the owners, is essentially a strike.

These actions and statements by professional athletes is forcing more and more of America to have to come to terms with White Supremacy, and not just the White Supremacist practices of the police, but the White Supremacy of lawmakers, businesses and other sectors of society that continue to ignore the demands from the Movement for Black Lives.

Such actions by professional athletes is nothing new. In fact, Black athletes have been making demands for decades, whether we are talking about Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier to the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which went public with their platform during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The 1968 protest was made famous when John Carlos and Tommy Smith raised their fists during the awards ceremony. Carlos and Smith were part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which was organized by Dr. Harry Edwards. Their demands during the 1968 Olympics were:

  • South Africa, a country under white minority rule, was uninvited to the summer games.
  • Muhammad Ali’s world heavyweight boxing title was restored. It had been stripped because of his refusal to take part in the military draft in the United States.
  • American Avery Brundage stepped down as president of the International Olympic Committee
  • More black coaches were hired, especially for Olympics teams.
  • The New York Athletic Club was boycotted for its membership policy prohibiting Puerto Rican, black and Jewish members.

These kinds of demands were wide ranging and international in scope, just as the Movement for Black Lives have been.

However, a major issue is not just what Black athletes are doing to protest, but what response will there be from white people. According to Dave Zirin’s powerful book, A People’s History of Sports in the United States, when Jack Johnson (a Black boxer) beat Jim Jeffries ( a white boxer) in 1910, there were race riots across the US, with white people attacking Black neighborhoods.

Jackie Robinson received death threats when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, as did Hank Aaron when he was getting ready to surpass the career home run record that had been previously held by Babe Ruth, in 1974. We saw the white vitriol on display when Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel before an NFL game, in protest of the police murdering of Black people. And we see how white people have been responding to the most recent uprising that began shortly after a cop in Minneapolis murdered George Floyd.

We should never doubt the courage and conviction of Black people who have been fighting for centuries against a system of White Supremacy. Where there are serious doubts, is whether or not white people will fight alongside Black people and work to dismantle the system of White Supremacy that permeates all of our institutions. As the old labor song goes, Which side are you on my people, which side are you on! It is past time for White people to get on the side of freedom.

Update: As of this writing, early Thursday morning, it is being reported by several sources that during the NBA players meeting, the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angels Lakers will strike for the rest of the season and until there is significant change. LeBron James, with the LA Lakers said that the two LA teams will remain on strike until NBA owners take action!

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