It usually is politicians, community leaders, educators, and even parents who recognize society’s problems and speak up. These groups weighed in (both pro and con) on police brutality acts documented in the news and on social media. But increasingly, athletes use their platform as public figures and role models to step up and aggressively call for change.
The Bucks refuse to play
The Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for a playoff game on August 26. It was in response to a Kenosha, Wisconsin, policeman shooting a black man in the back in front of his children on August 23. “When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable,” said the Bucks players in a written statement. “We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from lawmakers and law enforcement.”
The other active Wisconsin professional teams followed suit. Then many other teams followed their lead. It was an unprecedented stand where games in every professional sport here in the United States were postponed on August 27. They had the support of coaches, staff, and even owners in some cases. In an ironic bit of timing, the 27th marked the fourth anniversary of Colin Kaepernick not standing for the first time during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
No longer a safe haven
Sports were once activities where athletes were expected to set aside politics and focus on elevating athletic achievement. Athletes who did speak out on the field of play – such as Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Colin Kaepernick – have historically been severely punished. Some argue that removing racial issues made sports a safe haven for racists – the argument being that Blacks and minorities were tolerated as long as they kept their mouths shut and performed exceptionally. This is no longer the case. Now Black athletes and teammates supporting them feel compelled to speak up over racial injustice and other important social issues. To their credit, the leagues have finally found ways to accommodate these protests and athletes speaking out.
Professional football, the sport with the largest audience share in the U.S., kicked off September 10. Its players and coaches have already expressed support of the messaging in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS, so those looking for solace from the worries of racial inequality, police brutality, the pandemic and politics will have no safe haven during NFL’s 2020 season as well.