Following the police-perpetrated shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, earlier this week, a number of sports teams in various leagues that were scheduled to compete on Wednesday opted instead to strike, refusing to play in order to highlight racial injustice, including anti-Black police violence.
In the NBA, players from the Milwaukee Bucks refused to leave the locker room, skipping Game 5 of their playoff matchup against the Orlando Magic, and issued a statement denouncing racist police violence, including the shooting of Jacob Blake. (Kenosha is just a 45-minute car ride away from Milwaukee.)
After the game was canceled, the NBA decided to halt the remaining playoff games set for that afternoon, stating that the games would be rescheduled rather than forfeited. The league plans to continue the season, though one player told ESPN “the season is in jeopardy” because it’s up to players to decide whether to continue playing or not. Players are planning to meet Thursday morning to discuss their plans further.
The Bucks’ players’ statement highlighted the urgency of the situation.
“Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve 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 protestors,” Bucks players said. “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
Full statement from the Milwaukee Bucks: pic.twitter.com/jjGEyVcCmB
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) August 26, 2020
The players urged lawmakers in the state of Wisconsin to pass legislation reforming police procedure.
“We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable,” the players continued. “For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has called for a special session of the Republican-led legislature to convene and address changes to policing.
“Frankly, I should not need to call a special session. Leaders show up. Leaders do the work that needs to be done and that the people demand of them,” Evers said after making the order. “But we cannot wait for Republican leadership to show up for work because clearly they intend to keep us waiting. That’s not going to cut it.”
But Republicans in Wisconsin have indicated they’re opposed to a special session, proposing a task force to listen to ideas for reform first.
“This is not a time for political posturing or to suggest defunding law enforcement,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.
Meanwhile, players from other leagues also showed their support for Black lives, calling for reforms by staging protests and joining the strike. In the WNBA, all three playoff games that had been scheduled were postponed after players in the league said they would not take part. Players from the Washington Mystics arrived to their game against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday wearing T-shirts that spelled out, with one letter per shirt, Jacob Blake’s name. The shirts also had seven holes in the backs of them to symbolize how many times police had shot him.
“This isn’t just about basketball. We aren’t just basketball players, and just because we are basketball players doesn’t mean that’s our only platform,” Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins said during an interview. “We need to understand that, when most of us go home, we still are Black, in the sense that, our families matter.”
“We need to understand that these moments are so much bigger than us,” she added.
Major League Baseball also saw its games canceled for the day after the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds jointly decided not to play on Wednesday.
“The players from the Brewers and Reds have decided to not play tonight’s baseball game. 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,” a joint statement from players on both teams said.
Hockey players in the NHL, however, played their games on Wednesday, though several expressed their support for the strikes in other leagues.
“We support the fight against racism and injustice. There are different ways to express that fight and obviously NBA players expressed their opinions by boycotting the games today,” Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “We support it.”
Other players said the hockey league might take future action in solidarity with the strikers, and suggested their inaction on Wednesday was a timing issue.
“I think, personally, with our team, we played last night, we played today, the other leagues hadn’t taken their stances until we got here tonight,” Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “I think for us it was something we found out when we got to the rink and something we have to address going forward.”