Outside of hockey, I’m not a huge American sports follower, but I’m fast becoming a fan of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Before we go any further, my hand is up in full acknowledgement of being a white woman living in New Zealand who has never once had to face discrimination due to the colour of her skin. That’s privilege, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around how best I can check myself in every facet of life.
Far from my comfortable existence, a man was shot in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Seven times. He is Black. The name of Jacob Blake sadly joins a long list of names of people the rest of the world should never have known in this way.
Following George Floyd’s death at the hands of police earlier in the year, once sports in America recommenced, there was a lot of initial gestures. There were press releases, slogans and special jerseys, field and court markings. Players kneeled before or after anthems, while a brave few did during.
But what does that do, long term? It highlights those brave enough to make a stand, but the power for systemic change doesn’t lie with players. It doesn’t lie in a social justice statement on the back of a jersey. So, today, the Milwaukee Bucks played their most powerful hand – they didn’t take the court at all. They were joined by opposing teams in the NBA playoffs, and also the WNBA and MLB.
No games to play means no advertising which means revenue losses. That’s one way to make the powers that be in sport – and their mostly white administrators and sponsors – take notice. It’s a way to make the everyday white person stop and wonder why it had to come to this.
This needs to be more than a moment. It can’t be one game, one day, one series. It needs to be a sustained pressure, that we won’t perform until you stop killing our brothers and sisters.
Because why should Black people be subject to one of the strongest examples of double standards? Black athletes are lauded for their power and athleticism, cheered when they execute a touchdown or a jaw-dropping three pointer. Then, they step off the field or the court, and are subject to prejudice in every other aspect of their life. Or they witness their brother, cousin or friend not afforded basic human decency, and the only difference is their level of sporting prowess.
Don’t believe me? Read this first hand account from Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown. If it’s TL;DR for you, or you simply don’t care enough, this quote sums up the point:
“I could hear a few of the officers making jokes about the Bucks. In the body cam videos that were later released, one officer jokes about how it will blow up in the media because I’m an NBA player and how they’ll be accused of being racist.”
The implication being that the media would only care because of what he does for a job. Brown also makes the point that some people doubted his story and treatment until video footage of the incident was released. Thank goodness there was a video, for Brown, for Blake, for Floyd. But how many others were not filmed in their last moments?
So good on those NBA players for taking a stand. This piece will be out of date by the end of today, I’m sure. Sadly, that’s how quickly this situation is moving in the States. There’s likely to be another night of protest, another death perhaps, and players and teams will respond. Words and slogans and t shirts haven’t proven enough, so stronger action was necessary.
People often say sport is a distraction from the harsh realities of the world, and in 2020 that has been truer than ever. But by taking the game away completely, basketball is saying “You don’t deserve to be distracted from this. Look around, and understand why.” It is not an action taken in response to one incident in Wisconsin. There’s decades of receipts for systemic racism and injustice for Black people, and nothing has made a difference before now. Perhaps no NBA playoffs will leave them with time to think.
There will be a group of white people, in the cesspool of Twitter comments especially, grabbing a Bud Light and probably a handgun engraved with the Second Amendment, demanding sport returns, that ‘sports and politics don’t mix’. I’ve always disagreed with this, but right now, sport and politics isn’t even the issue.
It’s sport and fundamental human rights. Land of the free? *insert Tui billboard here*
Remember, just because it’s not your lived experience, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Ignoring it? Now that’s privilege.
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