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Milwaukee Bucks’ boycott triggers wave of protests against racial injustice across US sports

Referees huddle on an empty court at game time of a scheduled game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic for Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2020 NBA Playoff. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

LAUSANNE, August 27, 2020 – Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to boycott their NBA playoff game on Wednesday, August 26, 2020 in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in the team’s home state has triggered similar moves across American sports in protest against racial injustice.

Following Buck’s decision, the NBA postponed Game 5 of three different series: Bucks vs. Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers, as players chose not to play in support of Black Lives Matter.

As athletes continued to act in solidarity with the Bucks’ players, three WNBA, five Major League Soccer and three Major League Baseball games were called off. The MLS Players Association tweeted in response to the National Basketball Players Association, “We stand with you. #JusticeForJacobBlake”. Two-time tennis Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, the highest paid female athlete in the world, joined the wave of protests by pulling out of the Western & Southern Open despite reaching the semi-finals.

Blake, a Black man, was shot by police on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He is recovering in hospital and is conscious, but his lawyers fear it will take a “miracle” for him to walk again. The shooting has sparked days of demonstrations, some of which have turned violent.

And according to the Bucks players, they were unable to focus on basketball due to the incidents in Kenosha.

“Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin we have seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha and the additional shooting of protesters,” they said in a statement.

“Despite the overwhelming plea for change there has been no action so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”

Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry wrote on Twitter: “Some things are bigger than basketball. The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.”

Former US President Barack Obama tweeted his support of the Bucks: “I commend the players on the @Bucks for standing up for what they believe in, coaches like @DocRivers, and the @NBA and @WNBA for setting an example. It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values.”

Meanwhile after a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Anett Kontaveit in New York, Naomi Osaka took to her social media accounts to announce her withdrawal from her semi-final at the Western & Southern Open, which was scheduled to be played on Thursday afternoon.

“Hello, as many of you are aware I was scheduled to play my semi-finals match tomorrow. However, before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.”

Crews work on a basketball arena at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. NBA games will resume Thursday. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

On Tuesday, LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers had expressed his deep frustration over the shooting of Jacob Blake following his team’s 154-111 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of their NBA playoff series. Rivers was asked about the matter before the game, but he said he would discuss it after.

“It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach. I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We got to do better. But we got to demand better,” Rivers said with raw emotion.

Per LA Times, NBA players had a meeting in which Lakers forward LeBron James and Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard were adamant about not playing the rest of the playoffs because they wanted change. Whether this suggestion will stand is unclear. The reportedly three-hour meeting comprised of the 13 teams still competing in the playoffs and another meeting has been scheduled for Thursday. According to NBC Sports, the NBA’s board of governors, made of team owners, will have their own virtual meeting to discuss the boycott and next steps.

Under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, strikes are banned, which means the Bucks players broke their own contract in order to protest racial injustice and police violence.

However, even the NBA referees are in support of the players’ decision: “The NBRA stands in solidarity with our players’ decision to boycott tonight’s games in protest of the continued unjustified killing of black men and women by law enforcement. There are more important issues in our country than basketball and we hope this will inspire change,” the association tweeted.

The NHL has been criticized for going ahead with it’s Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday with two games, albeit having a moment of reflection for racism prior to Game 3 between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba, who raised a fist to highlight social and racial justice issues during the anthems of his qualifying-series game against the Vancouver Canucks earlier this month, said the league’s decision to hold playoff games Wednesday, despite cancellations across the NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS, is “disheartening,” but expected. He stated this in an appearance on Sportsnet’s 650 on Wednesday. “In the NHL we’re always late to the party, especially on these topics,” he said.

When the NBA season restarted in July, players, coaches and referees knelt during the national anthem, wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts and the words “Black Lives Matter” were painted on all courts. There were locked arms, shut eyes and raised fists. The powerful message of that reopening night was clear. The demand for change, in one voice.

CNN reports that the Bucks spoke with the family of Jacob Blake ahead of the boycott. “They told Jacob’s parents that they were behind them 100%,” Patrick Salvi Jr., a lawyer representing the Blake family told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “They expressed their sympathies and empathies for what has occurred.”

Salvi added that Blake’s parents – Julia Jackson and Jacob Blake Sr. – then urged the Bucks to use their platforms to “accomplish peace” and “encourage people to protest in nonviolent ways”.

WNBA, MLB and others show solidarity

Representing the six teams slated to play on Wednesday, Atlanta Dream player Elizabeth Williams announced that WNBA players are standing in solidarity with “our brothers in the NBA” and also would not play.

The ESPN2 broadcast showed players from the six teams scheduled to take the court in locked arms and kneeling while wearing shirts spelling out Jacob Blake’s name.

The WNBA announced that the three games scheduled for the evening had been postponed.

Three MLB games were postponed: Cincinnati Reds- Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners-San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants.

“Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight,” a league statement says. “Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice.”

The Reds and Brewers were to play in Milwaukee.

“The players from the Brewers and Reds have decided to not play tonight’s baseball game,” they said in a joint statement. “With our community and our nation in such pain, we wanted to draw as much attention to the issues that really matter, especially racial injustice and systemic oppression.”

The Mariners also unanimously voted to not play their scheduled game against the Padres, Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon said in a tweet.

“There are serious issues in this country,” Gordon wrote. “For me, and for many of my teammates, the injustices, violence, death and systemic racism is deeply personal. This is impacting not only my community, but very directly my family and friends. Our team voted unanimously not to play tonight”

The Padres said they understand the Mariners decision.

“We understand the Mariners decision to postpone tonight’s game and we support the players’ efforts to use their platform to bring awareness to the very serious issue of racial injustice impacting our country today,” the team said.

Five MLS games scheduled to take place on Wednesday night were postponed, the league announced.

The NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, continued Wednesday with two games. Before the start of Game 3 of the second-round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, there was a moment of reflection for racism in response to the Blake shooting. The Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars are scheduled to play later Wednesday night.

Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka announced on social media that she will not play in the Western & Southern Open semifinals on Thursday.

“Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach,” she wrote.

NBA community backs Bucks

Following the Bucks’ decision, the team received a flood of support from many in the NBA community, including its senior vice president Alex Lasry.

“Some things are bigger than basketball,” Lasry wrote on Twitter. “The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.”

The Bucks owners said that they did not know about the decision beforehand, but said they “would have wholeheartedly agreed with them.”

“We fully support our players and the decision they made,” owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan said in a statement. “The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on the racial injustices that are happening in front of us. Our players have done that and we will continue to stand alongside them and demand accountability and change.”

In a statement, the Orlando Magic backed the league’s decision to postpone the games.

“Today we stand united with the NBA Office, the National Basketball Players Association, the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the league condemning bigotry, racial injustice and the unwarranted use of violence by police against people of color,” the Orlando Magic said.

Players call for social justice

The Bucks spoke with the family of Jacob Blake ahead of the boycott, said Patrick Salvi Jr., a lawyer representing the Blake family.

“They told Jacob’s parents that they were behind them 100%,” Salvi told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “They expressed their sympathies and empathies for what has occurred.”

In return, Blake’s parents — Julia Jackson and Jacob Blake Sr. — asked the Bucks to use their platforms to “accomplish peace” and “encourage people to protest in nonviolent ways,” Salvi said.

Some players had already been using their platforms to vocalize their calls for social justice as America reckons with racism and the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police.

When the season restarted in July, every NBA player kneeled during the national anthem, wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts and the words “Black Lives Matter” were painted on all courts.

“We understand what’s going on in society right now and we’re using this NBA platform as the players, as the coaches, as organizations to continue to stand strong on that,” LeBron James said last month. “It’s a good start.”

Throughout the season, many players dedicated their post-game interviews to Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT was shot multiple times in March by police.

Last week, the Los Angeles Lakers were seen wearing red hats, which looked like MAGA hats worn by supporters of President Donald Trump. But the text on the hats reads: “Make America Great Again Arrest The Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor.”

Bucks forward Sterling Brown wrote in an article for The Player’s Tribune in July, describing a 2018 incident in which he was tased and arrested after an altercation stemming from a parking violation. He filed a lawsuit that same year against the city of Milwaukee, the police chief and the eight officers involved in his arrest.

“The city of Milwaukee wanted to give me $400,000 to be quiet after cops kneeled on my neck, stood on my ankle, and tased me in a parking lot,” Brown wrote last month. “But here’s the thing: I can’t be quiet. I rejected the offer because I have a responsibility to be a voice and help change the narrative for my people. In order to do so I have to tell my story, so dialogue and conversations about police brutality can help influence and change a corrupt system. It goes deeper than me just illegally parking.”

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