Social justice campaigns have brought the sporting world to a grinding halt as teams boycott games in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Milwaukee Bucks chose to strike and not play its scheduled NBA game against the Orlando Magic on August 26, a decision that came after months of media attention regarding African American men and women’s interactions with law enforcement.
The Black Lives Matter protests began in May after the deaths of African Americans Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The Bucks’ strike came as a result of the August 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, an African American who was shot in the Bucks’ home state of Wisconsin.
In a team statement, the Bucks said it was “calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable”.
The Bucks’ protest was followed by athletes around the world stopping play in a show of solidarity with the African-American community.
The Major League Baseball chose to postpone all scheduled games, along with the Women’s National Basketball Association, while tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from her scheduled match against Elise Mertens at the Cincinnati Open.
“As a black woman, I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand…rather than watching me play tennis,” Osaka said in an Instagram post.
These protests serve as a reminder of the power athletes wield when it comes to social issues.
It has been four years since former NFL player Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem in a pre-season match to protest against police brutality.
Kaepernick’s decision to protest was not well received. He was criticised for disrespecting the American flag and the United States military, and was criticised by US President Donald Trump who said the protests occurring in the NFL were “ruining the game”.
The Bucks’ decision to boycott its match in August was met with praise from fellow athletes and celebrities, praise Kaepernick did not receive.
Former US President Barack Obama tweeted his support, saying he “commend[ed] the players on the Bucks for standing up for what they believe in”.
Fellow NBA player Kevin Love also took to Twitter and said “we have the strongest, most unified league in the world”.
The NBA’s decision to support its players came as no surprise.
NBA player association executive director Michele Roberts said in a statement the NBA stands “with the decision of the players of the Milwaukee Bucks to protest this injustice and support the collective decision to postpone all of today’s games”.
The protests were not over once the NBA restarted its season on July 30, with players granted permission to have messages printed on the back of their jerseys – some included the phrases “equality”, “justice”, “peace” and “freedom”.
The bond between the players and the NBA has strengthened in recent years, after the league removed owner Donald Sterling.
The move came after audio was released of Sterling making racial remarks about NBA players and African Americans to his then-girlfriend in 2014.
Sterling was heard saying “it bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”.
“You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in; you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that...and not to bring them to my games.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s swift response in banning Sterling for life was praised by players and coaches.
Los Angeles Lakers star Lebron James thanked Silver for “protecting our beautiful and powerful league” while Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry commended Silver for “standing up for our league and its players”.
NBA players’ ability to have an open dialogue with the league has led to significant change.
The Bucks’ protest led to the NBA’s commitment to opening franchise-owned stadiums in every American city for the purpose of voting in the upcoming presidential election.
The NBA has also agreed to establish a social justice coalition with players, coaches and governors, as well as include advertisements dedicated to promoting greater civic engagement during the NBA playoff games.