The NBA Walkouts and Obama

NBA players kneeling. Credit: Kim Klement-Pool/AP (source)

After the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, NBA players took action. The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t come out for tip-off, and a wave of solidarity spread throughout the sports world. Athletes in the WNBA, baseball, football, and hockey leagues all demonstrated their outrage at the racism of this country.

These professional athletes said, in effect, “No business as usual, while these racist police attacks continue!” They are passionate about the issue. And they were following the lead of hundreds of thousands of people protesting since the cop murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

However, a meeting was held between former president Barack Obama and several NBA players, including LeBron James, and the players association president, Chris Paul. Initially the Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers wanted to call the entire season off. But Obama encouraged the players to play, and the players did just that.

Why? The players were right to walk out! Professional athletes have a huge voice and a massive platform. Why not call for justice and encourage others to do so?

And maybe that was what Obama was attempting to control: the spread of a social movement that has power to challenge the foundations of our society.

Jayleen Brown, a forward with the Celtics, spelled it out:

“I think promises are made year after year. We’ve heard a lot of these terms and words before. We heard them in 2014 – reform. We’re still hearing them now. A lot of them are just reshaping the same ideas and nothing is actually taking place. Long-term goals are one thing, but I think there’s stuff in our wheelhouse as athletes with our resources and the people that we’re connected to that short-term effect is possible as well.

“Everybody keeps saying, ‘Change is going to take this, change is going to take that.’ That’s the incrementalism idea that keeps stringing you along to make you feel like something’s going to happen, something’s going to happen. People were dying in 2014, and it’s 2020 and people are still dying the same way. They keep saying ‘reform, reform, reform,’ and ain’t nothing being reformed. I’m not as confident as I would like to be.”