How many times can you break a camel’s back? That’s what the whole country is asking after seeing police officers shoot Jacob Blake in front of his children in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a few days ago.
Despite the riots, his family’s statements, the complaints of activists and citizens, the authorities and the system seem unchangeable.
That is why, in a country where entertainment is balanced between sports and gossip and show business, it was enough for the athletes of the NBA, the WNBA, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer to announce the boycott of Wednesday’s games for many to pay attention.
According to The New York Times, the wave of boycotts and postponements was triggered by the Milwaukee Bucks players’ response to Blake’s shooting when they refused to leave their locker room Wednesday afternoon for a playoff game against the Orlando Magic.
Two other NBA playoff games scheduled for Wednesday night were quickly postponed, inspiring players from other leagues to follow the Bucks’ lead and causing numerous professional basketball, baseball, and soccer games to be canceled because they did not want to participate.
Gestures supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and against systemic racism in the country have abounded at sporting events. From kneeling during the national anthem to wearing T-shirts with social justice messages, athletes around the country have tried to raise their voices. But seeing the situation worsen, the members of an already multi-billion-dollar industry decided to refuse to play.
As The Times continues, Milwaukee’s players stunned league officials by organizing Wednesday’s boycott, a walkout that had virtually no precedent in NBA history.
Milwaukee’s George Hill gave a glimpse of the Bucks’ mind-set on Monday when he openly questioned whether the league’s return had successfully amplified the players’ messaging.
“We shouldn’t have even come to this damn place, to be honest,” Hill said. “I think coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are.”
Although sports organizations announced that they would resume games over the weekend, their frustration seems to condense decades of overlooked inequalities, for the sake of entertainment and the passion of others.
Since Charles Follis became the first Black professional football player in 1902, it took several decades for teams to be completely desegregated. Today, African Americans represent about 75% of the players in the NBA and 65% of the players in the National Football League, for example.
But that representation is not matched by the rest: college teams often have more than 50% of their players who are African American, while their classrooms still have less than 10% of students who are of color, according to researcher Billy Hawkins in his book The new plantation: black athletes, college sports, and predominantly white NCAA institutions.
And while on the court, they are applauded, they are exposed to racial violence from police forces on the street.
For Harry Edwards, sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley, the protests against racism by American athletes are not only to be expected but are part of a historical struggle that seems never to end.
“This is supposedly a post-racial America,” said Edwards, who in 1967 organized the Olympic Project for Human Rights, and organized a boycott by African-American athletes of the 1968 Olympics.
“The biggest difference now between then and now is the big money of television contracts from the ’80s into the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. Society would like to turn away from facing and confronting injustice,” he told The Undefeated. “These are the same issues that are built into the cultural affairs of this country, which have always trended toward white supremacy in every walk of life. Law enforcement, police brutality, and white supremacy have always been where the rubber meets the road.”
“Don’t just look at the athletes, look at society,” Edwards reflected. “There was always this conclusion that the civil rights [movement] was dead, that it wasn’t necessary.”
Today, more than necessary, it is mandatory.