The caught-on-camera police shooting of yet another unarmed Black man in America saw professional athletes using their power this week by essentially shutting down sports. From MLB, to MLS, to tennis, to the WNBA and the NBA (and even hockey), players made the bold and unprecedented move to shut it down, not only to call attention to Kenosha, Wisconsin Police Department Officer Rusten Sheskey’s shooting of Jacob Blake (seven times, in the back, in front of his children), but to call for their respective organizations to put their considerable influence into actual action. (Beyond some corporate-approved Black Lives Matter banners, and so forth.)
Nowhere was this collective action more striking than in the National Basketball Association, where teams in the middle of the hotly contested (if socially distanced) playoffs made the decision to walk off the court. Speaking to Los Angeles Clippers head coach and vocal supporter of his players’ decision Doc Rivers, Trevor Noah called the unprecedented strike for social justice “inspiring, but also sad.” (Apart from the shooting that precipitated the players’ strike, Noah really wanted to see if Clippers sixth man Lou Williams can keep his hot hand.) Rivers, wearing a John Lewis-inspired “Good Trouble” T-Shirt and Zoom-calling in alongside Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, told Noah that this decision by the players is indicative of just how ready the majority-Black league is to get involved in a very real way in changing systemic racism in America.
“The games have always gone on,” explained Rivers of just how drastic the player strike is. “The players literally need to take a breath.” And while the sight of sports figures walking off the court/field/rink in solidarity with the victims of racist police violence like Jacob Blake is, itself, a hell of a thing in this sports-obsessed country, Rivers lauded the players stance in not returning (again, to the freaking playoffs) until owners, like the also all-in Ballmer, work with players on “tangible things they want to do.” “I love that our guys are doing it,” said Rivers with no small amount of pride, “I think they’re doing it in a sensational way.”
And they really are, as, among other specific measures addressing minority voter disenfranchisement (currently number one on the GOP’s to-do list) and establishing an entirely un-ceremonial, league-wide social justice coalition, the NBA has agreed to turn every NBA basketball arena into a centrally located, thoroughly spacious voting location for the 2020 general election in November. (Strangely, Republicans are against such measures that would make voting safer and easier, especially in Black-majority communities. Weird.) Said Ballmer (an enthusiastic booster of his players’ goals), “If you put the players and the equity holders in our teams—the owners, if you will—if you put us together, the ability to, let me say, put pressure on both Ds and Rs to come together to work out solutions that really matter—I think that’s an extra advantage we have.”
Rivers, himself a former star player, praised Ballmer for being on the players’ side, rebuffing the sports talk radio jabber about players shutting up and dribbling (to reluctantly paraphrase Fox News white supremacist propagandist Laura Ingraham) and saying, “Politics are part of our lives, our daily lives. If you don’t get involved with it, it’s going to get involved with you.” Ballmer’s sentiments echoed from his self-admitted lofty perch as a rich white man, with the owner confessing, “I don’t have the experience of growing up Black in the United States,” and that he was happy to follow his players’ example. (Disgraced bigot and former Clippers owner Donald Sterling—somehow not dead yet—could not be reached for no doubt incomprehensibly racist comment.)
The NBA has resumed the playoffs in the wake of the league’s announcement that it will work with the players on some concrete ways to put their money where it can do real good. The Clippers (up 3-2 in the first round series) try to close out the Mavericks on Sunday.