The Milwaukee Bucks shocked the sports world on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 26, after the players decided to boycott Game 5 of their first round NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic. The team decided to boycott the game to put pressure on the authorities to bring justice for Jacob Blake, the unarmed black man who was shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin and is now paralyzed from the waist down. In response to the boycott, the NBA immediately postponed the other two games scheduled later that day.
Their protest spread rapidly, inspiring other players from the NBA and other athletes to act in solidarity. After hearing the news of the Bucks’ boycott, Milwaukee’s professional baseball team – the Brewers – held a team meeting and decided to boycott in support of the actions taken by the Bucks. Both teams felt the situation in Kenosha hit close to home and they needed to take a stand, given Kenosha is less than an hour outside of Milwaukee and parts of their fan base come from the area.
Within a matter of hours, three other Major League Baseball games were cancelled after players decided they weren’t going to play. Players from the Women’s NBA (WNBA) demanded all games be cancelled in solidarity. Players from Major League Soccer initiated boycotts, and players from the National Hockey League followed suit a day later. Naomi Osaka, one of the top female tennis players in the world, also refused to play her match that week.
NBA players were right to stand up against the racist police violence of this society. They are confronting how to take a stand against this society while also being conscious of the fact that their play can be a distraction from the larger societal issues we face. They decided that the NBA’s corporate Black Lives Matter initiative was not going to make a difference. They decided they needed to take action on their own.
There is a lot to learn and reflect on from what has happened. It shows how the act to stand up and take action can elicit a response across the population, and that things can change very quickly. Within hours of individuals on the Bucks initiating this, they had sparked a process that shut down professional sports across the country and intensified the national spotlight on the attempted murder of Jacob Blake by police.
We are living in a society that is deteriorating from COVID-19, the economic crisis, and the brutal racism that it relies upon. People see that, but may be afraid to take the first step, thinking others will. We can learn from the NBA players that said, “Enough is enough!”
But we can also see that we need to get organized. The better organized we can become, the better chance we will have to influence society and make lasting change when these moments do arrive and people are ready to take a stand.