America Doesn’t Deserve Sports Right Now, and the NBA Wildcat Strike Understands That

America Doesn’t Deserve Sports Right Now, and the NBA Wildcat Strike Understands That

Before the NBA kicked off its rebooted season in Disney World, promises were made. The league and Commissioner Adam Silver swore that despite being ensconced in a semipermeable bubble in Orlando, Florida, players would in no way be hindered from participating in the nationwide uprising against police brutality and state-sanctioned violence largely inflicted upon people of color. 

In fact, their voices would not only be heard, but amplified, according to Silver, as long as they continued to both literally and figuratively play ball. 

At the time, some players weren’t convinced. They voiced concerns that once the vast bulk of the sports-loving world’s attention was diverted to dazzling, buzzer-beating three pointers and thrilling playoff drama, activism would necessarily take a back seat. To a degree, they have been proven right. But whether or not the public was aware, in locker rooms and on the ESPN campus, those conversations amongst athletes never stopped. 

When seven shots were fired into the back of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23, the bland, snackable form of leftism the league had rubber-stamped was revealed to be a rather empty branding exercise. That was the point, after all, lest espousing basic human rights somehow peeved the wrong suburban mom and disrupted the steady flow of commerce. 

Kneeling during the national anthem has been normalized and thus ignored, as have the NBA-approved messages like “equality” stitched onto the backs of players’ jerseys. And so the athletes themselves have opted in favor of direct political action, regardless of what scorn they may endure and financial losses they might accrue. On Wednesday afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks organized a wildcat strike, refusing to take the court to face off against the Orlando Magic for game five of their first-round playoff series.

They weren’t alone. In short succession. It was reported that the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder also planned to strike, and by 5 p.m. ET, the NBA went ahead and postponed the evening’s entire slate of games, before the remaining teams scheduled to play, including LeBron James and the Lakers, could publicly follow suit—a transparent attempt to short-circuit any images of empty arenas and silence comments from the striking players. This, too, is doomed to fail. 

Later in the evening, Milwaukee’s Major League Baseball team chose to strike in solidarity, as did the Cincinnati Reds, and the entire slate of WNBA games was called off. Other teams are sure to follow. TNT commentator and ex-player Kenny Smith also took off his mic in the middle of an on-air segment and walked out of the studio in solidarity.

In a group statement, the Bucks highlighted the non-response from local and national politicians since Blake was shot and, according to his family, now paralyzed. “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” they said.

The team also called on the Wisconsin state legislature to reconvene and begin working to enact “meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform,” and encouraged people to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Various teams and the NBPA have backed the players, but the Bucks notably did not address the question of how long they plan to continue sitting out.  



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