The latest protest action taken by NBA players and athletes throughout the world wasn't a matter of "if," but "when."
It’s Wednesday, August 26th, and the Orlando Magic are on the court warming up for their Game 5 matchup against the first-place Milwaukee Bucks. Coming into this game, the Bucks are up 3-1 in the series and if the Magic want to continue their NBA title hopes, they'll need to pull out a win. As they proceed with their shootaround, they remain the only team on the court. The arena timer continues to tick closer to game time and the Bucks still haven't come out. Reports begin to swirl online that the Bucks are boycotting. They’re refusing to leave their locker room, and attempting to get on the phone with Wisconsin state legislators. NBA Twitter soon erupts into a frenzy, as everyone anxiously attempts to figure out what's going on. Meanwhile, in the midst of their aimless shooting, the Magic realize the Bucks aren’t coming out and head back to their locker room. The game has been canceled.
In the hours that followed the Bucks finally left their room and addressed the media. The team spoke on the Jacob Blake shooting, as well as racial inequality across the United States. It was an incredible moment that demonstrated just how fed up the players are with the racial injustice that has plagued the country. The Bucks' protest was immediately followed with boycotts from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Portland Trail Blazers. All of their games were canceled and players from every team in the bubble held a meeting to decide if the league would continue on with the postseason.
At first, it seemed like the league would have to cancel the season as players like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard voted to go home. After a night of reflection, players came to an understanding and opted to move forward while also demanding that team owners start enacting plans to bring forth real change on a legislative level. In the midst of all of this, MLB games, WNBA matches, and even NHL playoff matchups were canceled and postponed in a demonstration of solidarity with the NBA.
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These efforts have already garnered the attention of those in office, including President Donald Trump's senior advisor, Jared Kushner who said he wanted to reach out to LeBron. Meanwhile, the Bucks were able to contact Wisconsin politicians who have the direct ability to affect change. With the Bucks in their ear, real change could very well be on the way. Not to mention, Trump himself is displaying agitation over what the NBA's players are doing, although he’s masking it in true form with small slights directed at the league.
The NBA strike, albeit brief, led to some significant actions from owners throughout the league. For instance, LeBron directly addressed the owners during a phone call on Thursday night, where he gave a list of demands on behalf of the players. According to the NBA, this has led to three specific initiatives that teams will take on moving forward. For starters, teams and players will now come together to form a social justice coalition that will contribute to voting efforts and criminal justice reform. Meanwhile, in cities where the teams own their arenas, the owners will be working with election officials to turn these facilities into voting locations. This will promote an increase in civic engagement while also offering a safe space for people to vote without fear of COVID-19. Lastly, players and the league are set to collaborate on advertisements to be broadcast during every single game. These ads will promote going out to vote while also emphasizing on social justice.
Based on all of these new initiatives, it’s clear the NBA boycott helped accomplish some massive goals. In the approximately 72 hours that the players went on strike, the owners were forced to pay attention. The players, in turn, were able to get those in charge to agree to significant actions to effect, and propel reform. While these large scale issues won’t be fixed overnight, there are plans in place to give people a voice and in some situations, that’s all you can hope for.
As one can probably imagine, however, there were quite a few fans who took issue with these efforts. If you go on Twitter and read the comments section of any reporter who documented what was going on, you will see people on the vastly opposing sides of the issue. There are those who support the players, while there are also individuals who think they're too privileged to even speak on politics. Of course, the latter of these attitudes is simply wrong and misguided. To assume athletes are "privileged" and unworthy of political discussion is a direct assault of their humanity. This mentality insinuates that athletes only exist to entertain us and that outside of sports, their opinions are meaningless.
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What many fail to understand is that athletes have some of the biggest platforms in the world. These platforms can be used in a multitude of ways and when utilized correctly, they can go a long way to create real systemic change. Perhaps the best example of this is LeBron James "I Promise" school in Akron, Ohio. With this public school, LeBron was able to use his platform and money to create better educational outcomes for kids in his community. Now, children who otherwise would have never gone to college, are able to do so, which leads to better opportunities for everyone. The students at LeBron's school have been testing higher since they entered the "I Promise" program which is yet another example of how an athlete's platform can be used for overwhelming good. LeBron's "More Than A Vote" campaign is another outlet creating positive change, where he is currently trying to stop voter suppression. So far, his new organization has partnered with Dodgers Stadium to create a massive voting space for the Presidential election. It would be impossible to look at these efforts and think that athletes can't make a difference.
With all of these efforts in mind, it's important to remember that on a human level, athletes are just like us. Sure, they may make more money but that doesn't change their first amendment rights. In a world where we demand those in power to be held accountable, we should be welcoming of any wealthy person who puts their job on the line to fight for what's right.