“We are football players but we’re also human” are the words that Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers spoke after the team canceled practice on Tuesday to protest the Jacob Blake shooting. Blake is the latest name in an inexcusably long list of black men shot by police officers. This time the scene unfolded in Kenosha, Wisconsin when Blake was shot in the back seven times as he tried to get back into his car. His life was spared but he’ll live with long-term paralysis and disturbing memories of the moment that changed his life forever.
Blake’s shooting comes just a few months after George Floyd’s death. During that time, sports was at a standstill because of the coronavirus. In the midst of that, Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers resulted in an avalanche of protests. As time went on, the NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLB, and others forged ahead with a promise to focus on social justice during their games. Now things have come to a head in the middle every league’s season.
That brings me back to Flowers’ quote. Far too often, people forget athletes are human with families and friends that face social injustices on a daily basis. Black athletes in particular have to worry about whether their children, especially if they’re raising young black men, will make it home safely from routine life events. However, in an unprecedented move, athletes across multiple professional sports leagues made strong statements this week to remind us they are human beings before anything else.
It all started on Tuesday when the Detroit Lions abruptly canceled practice. Many of the players agreed that football was the last thing on their minds after learning the details behind Blake’s shooting. Instead, they decided to have conversations about their experiences with social injustices and systematic racism. They also spoke to media outside their headquarters with a whiteboard that had a very clear message written on it: “we won’t be silent.”
On Wednesday, the Washington Football Team decided to make a similar move. Thursday’s practice at FedEx Field has been canceled to “continue our open dialogue on the issues of racism and social injustice in our country.”
As of Thursday, the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, and more did not take the practice field. They spent the day reflecting as a team.
NBA and WNBA
The Milwaukee Bucks shocked the world on Wednesday when they didn’t show up for the Game 5 tipoff of the NBA playoffs. The word quickly spread that the Bucks decided to boycott their matchup against the Orlando Magic. This came on the heels of Clippers Coach Doc Rivers on the verge of tears the previous night as he discussed his frustrations with the Jacob Black situation. Rivers famously said “it’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.” Later in the evening, the Bucks spoke to media to elaborate on why they did not come out of their locker room for the game.
“We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable,” Milwaukee’s George Hill said.
This was the match that lit a fire under other players across various leagues that eventually followed suit, including the WNBA who boycotted in solidarity with the NBA. Once the Washington Mystics confirmed they were not willing to play their game versus the Atlanta Dream which was slated to be the first of several WNBA games, the league canceled the remainder of the games for the rest of that evening. The Mystics also wore shirts with seven bullet holes in the back to represent what happened to Jacob Blake.
Both leagues were already dedicating their seasons to social justice with targeted messaging on the back of their jerseys and Black Lives Matter on the basketball courts. In a good move, players from the NBA and WNBA took that a step further with the decision to boycott. On Friday, games will resume for both sides.
Shortly after the NBA and WNBA, the MLB announced players were not moving forward with three games: Milwaukee Brewers/ Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres/Seattle Mariners, and San Francisco Giants/Los Angeles Dodgers. In particular, the Mariners who have ten black players, the most in the MLB, unanimously voted that the show would not go on.
“Instead of watching us, we hope people will focus on the things more important than sports that are happening,” Mariners outfielder Dee Gordon said on Twitter.
The MLB released a statement of support for their players in light of the boycotted games.
In the tennis world, Naomi Osaka posted a powerful message on Twitter to share news that she is boycotting her semifinals match on Thursday at the Western & Southern Open in New York.
Five matches in Major League Soccer were also postponed on Wednesday after players confirmed they were not interested in playing.
Although the long-term outcome of this situation is evolving, it was historic to see the sports world unite in a way that we’ve never seen before. These athletes are using their platforms to bring about change and it’s only right that they are recognized for it.