NBA Game Boycott Against Police Violence Ripples Across Professional Sports

By David Martinez

On August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks were scheduled to take the court for a National Basketball Association (NBA) playoff game against the Orlando Magic. After a discussion in the locker room, the players chose to boycott the game in protest of the unceasing police brutality against Black people, primarily in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake and the reactionary murders of protesters in their home state of Wisconsin.

The protest quickly reverberated and other NBA teams chose not to play as well. Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, considered the league’s star player, tweeted in frustration against Blake’s shooting, “And y’all wonder why we say what we say about the Police!! Someone please tell me WTF is this???!!! Exactly another black man being targeted. This shit is so wrong and so sad!! Feel so sorry for him, his family and OUR PEOPLE!! We want JUSTICE”

At first, it was reported the Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers voted to sit out the rest of the season in protest, but the latest reports indicate this was not an official decision. Many other players and teams have supported the wildcat strike and after negotiations with NBA executives, it appears the playoffs will continue, but not without causing a domino effect across the sports world.

One NBA sports commentator, Kenny Smith, walked off the set of his own show in solidarity with the players.

Spilling over from the NBA, other athletes and professional sports teams held their own strikes. Three games of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) were delayed and players issued a statement while wearing white t-shirts spelling out Jacob Blake’s name, each shirt with seven blood-marked bullet holes on the back.

The Seattle Mariners, the Major League Baseball team with the highest number of Black Players, also sat out a game, along with other teams. Major League Soccer cancelled a week of upcoming matches and professional tennis matches were also delayed as Naomi Osaka, a Black woman with Haitian and Japanese heritage, said she would not play a semifinals match of the Western & Southern Open. The National Hockey League delayed their own playoff games as well.

Players from other leagues currently not in season also offered their support, including from the National Football League, where four years ago, Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in response to the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests. He was blacklisted from the league for his silent act of protest despite popular support among fans and other players.

Many professional sports leagues in the US are dominated by Black athletes, many of whom come from working class and poor upbringings, but play for teams run by almost entirely white, bourgeois executives. The sports boycotts signal a further shift that the cultural and entertainment spaces run by the capitalist ruling class must further contend with the popular uprisings and thinning patience of even wealthy athletes. While some Black professional athletes are millionaires and capitalists themselves, many cannot ignore the pain of their people and experiences of racial and class oppression they have faced in their own lives, and their solidarity with the people is a welcome and important contribution to the people’s struggle.

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