Professional sports leagues boycott games in wake of Jacob Blake shooting

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Muthu Panchanatham

Washington Wizards point guard Rui Hachimura warms up his jumpshot prior to the team's game against the Charlotte Hornets earlier this season. Athletes in professional sports leagues across the nation have boycotted their games in light of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

by Vishnu Kannan and Muthu Panchanatham

Athletes in professional sports leagues across the nation have boycotted their games in light of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The NBA was the first league to do so, temporarily postponing all playoff games scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, before resuming play on Saturday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

A white police officer shot Blake, a 29 year-old African American man, seven times as he leaned into his car — where three of his children were sitting in the back — while attempting to settle a domestic dispute, according to a report by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Blake is alive, but paralyzed from the waist down and has undergone surgery in a hospital.Since then, protests have begun in Kenosha. 

On Tuesday night, a 17-year-old white male allegedly shot and killed two protestors, aged 26 and 36. The shooter has since been charged with first degree intentional homicide by Kenosha County Prosecutors.

“I was not surprised about this unfortunately. Murders of innocent black people have been happening for a very long time now and I have become kind of used to it,” Brooklyn Cicero (11), an African American athlete on the varsity girls basketball team, said. “I know it’s terrible, but that’s how people like me have been groomed to react in situations like these.”

The Milwaukee Bucks were the first NBA team to begin the boycott, sitting out of their matchup against the Orlando Magic scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday and choosing to remain in their locker rooms instead. Fiserv Forum, the Bucks’ home stadium, is just 40 miles from Kenosha, the site of the shooting. 

I was not surprised about this unfortunately. Murders of innocent black people have been happening for a very long time now and I have become kind of used to it. I know it’s terrible, but that’s how people like me have been groomed to react in situations like these.”

— Brooklyn Cicero (11)

While some fans were disappointed about not being able to watch games temporarily, others have been supportive of the athletes for their actions. Andrew Vodinh-ho (11), who runs an NBA podcast called The Bench Warmers along with fellow juniors Akhilesh Chegu and Rohan Rashingkar on YouTube, expressed his admiration for the players’ decisions and his hope that the boycotts will result in concrete societal change.

“I have a lot of respect for the players that have made the decision to boycott their games, because they are risking their contracts and their futures in the league,” Andrew, who identifies as Asian American, said. “They are proving that nothing matters more than justice, and I hope that the players can finally put an end to the unacceptable violence towards African-Americans, which has become way too familiar.”

All NBA players, coaches, owners met at 5 p.m. PST on Wednesday to discuss the boycotts and the issues at hand. According to Shams Charania, reporter for The Athletic, the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers voted to boycott the remainder of the NBA season, while most of the other eleven remaining teams voted to continue. The group reconvened after a long night of discussion on Thursday morning, and as mentioned previously, have collectively agreed to resume the playoffs on Saturday.

According to a joint statement released by the NBA and NBPA, players have collaborated with the league to create a set of initiatives to increase access to voting and oppose racial inequality. As a result, the league formed a social injustice coalition to represent the positions of players, coaches and governors to discuss these issues. The NBA has also committed to use league facilities in cities across the country as voting locations, giving citizens a place to cast their ballots in the 2020 election even during the pandemic.

Kenny “The Jet” Smith, an African American sports commentator on TNT and former NBA player, walked off the TNT set on live television to show his support for the players’ actions. The boycotts have affected almost all the other professional sports leagues, most notably the MLB, WNBA and MLS. WNBA players from the Mystics, Dream, Sparks, Lynx, Sun and Mercury kneeled on the court Wednesday, wearing shirts that spelled out “Jacob Blake” and featured seven holes on each of their backs. 

Naomi Osaka, the number-one-ranked women’s tennis player according to Women’s Tennis Association, initially opted out of her Western and Southern Open semifinals match yesterday, but she has now decided to resume playing. The match has been rescheduled for today at 8 a.m. 

Osaka, who is half Japanese and half Haitian, explained her decision to postpone the match in a tweet on Wednesday.

“I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport, I consider that a step in the right direction,”  Osaka said. “Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.” 

Other athletes and coaches have also voiced their outrage at the recent events and advocated for change in their press conferences and on social media.

In a press conference following the Los Angeles Clippers’ win over the Dallas Mavericks yesterday, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who is African American, said, ‘We keep loving this country and this country doesn’t love us back.”

African American NBA star LeBron James shared his anger in a recent Twitter post, which read “F––– THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”

African American WNBA player Skylar Diggins-Smith offered her opinion on the issue as well on Twitter. 

In response to athletes across the country protesting for change, league and government authorities look inward to determine their future course of action. As to whether these movements will yield any changes to society, only time will tell.