• Brooke Tunstall

Bucks Boycott Sends Strong Message

Photo credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo. The Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for Game 5 of their NBA playoff series vs. the Orlando Magic on Wednesday to protest the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

It is a scene that has become all too familiar to Black America.

A white police officer in Kenosha, Wis., shot an unarmed Black man in the back seven times -- SEVEN! -- in front of his family after, they said, he tried to de-escalate a domestic disturbance.

In reaction, as is also the norm now, protesters took to the streets to exercise their First Amendment rights. Police in Kenosha were overwhelmed, the situation spiraled further south, and by Tuesday night a Blue Lives Matter-supporting teenager from just across the Illinois state line responded to a literal call-to-arms by fringe right-wing nuts and showed up with an illegally acquired AR-15 assault rifle.

Not surprisingly, the teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, snapped and gunned down three protesters, two of them fatally. Wednesday afternoon, Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis exacerbated an already intense situation when, instead of condemning the shooter, he blamed the protesters for violating the curfew he’d established to try and manage the chaos. Video later surfaced showing Kenosha police giving water to, and casually carousing with, some of the wingnuts that Rittenhouse was in Kenosha with.

At which point the Milwaukee Bucks, who play 40 miles up I-94 from Kenosha, said enough was, finally, enough. Rather than take the court for a Wednesday afternoon playoff game against the Orlando Magic at the NBA’s Disney World bubble, the Bucks took the action of last resort, using their platform to try and, somehow, force things to get better.

They refused to play.

“Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” read a statement put out Wednesday evening by the team.

“We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable.”

Soon afterward, two more NBA playoff games scheduled for Wednesday were postponed. The WNBA followed suit in solidarity and postponed its three games scheduled for Wednesday as well.

If the economic shutdown caused by Donald Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that America is desperate to be entertained when it’s stuck at home. And that economies, both local and national, are dependent on sports at all levels to be an economic engine.

The Bucks, however, chose not to be part of the band that played on. This time, they would not allow sports to be used as a vehicle to make it seem like life was returning to normal. This time, they weren’t going to just speak out for change.

They were going to demand it.

It’s been a trying year all around. For many white Americans looking in from the outside, the shootings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks that have sparked a national reflection on race seem like added tragedies amidst the plague of death caused by the coronavirus.

Unarmed killings of African Americans by police, and by racist wanna-be vigilantes, is nothing new. Blacks have been dealing with this, on these shores, since they were in chains and white Southerners were deputized to enforce punishment against them however, and for whatever reason, they saw fit. From Jim Crow to Bull Connor, from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, from Tulsa a century ago to Louisville, Atlanta and Portland this year. There are too many Black names to list, too many places to name where it’s all happened.

It’s a lot. And it’s more of the same.

What long-term impact the Bucks’ refusal to play will have is, obviously, still to be determined. But we already know a few things. One, it captured the nation’s attention and shined a spotlight on police brutality. That spotlight will get the attention of sponsors, and the sponsors hold considerable sway. Just ask Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder.

And the Bucks will likely just be the beginning. A couple hours after they refused to take the court, their crosstown neighbors, the Milwaukee Brewers, announced they’d be joining the protest by boycotting their game Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds. A Major League Soccer game has also been canceled.

If games stop getting played, and it starts to impact the economy, well, then politicians start to feel heat. Odds are that cops who are predisposed to be trigger-happy aren’t going to suddenly start showing restraint because some basketball, baseball and soccer games don’t get played.

The spotlight the Bucks’ action created will put pressure on local governments to tighten their police oversight rules and crack down harder on rogue cops. Police chiefs will be taking calls from the civilians that employ them demanding more restraint. And on down the line, till it hits the rank-and-file in the squad cars.

Not everywhere. Change will come hard and slow to some towns. But in others, the Bucks’ action will resonate, and the ripple effect will be powerful.

Athletes tried kneeling. They were called traitors and sons-of-bitches. When they spoke out and pleaded, they were told to stick to sports, shut up and dribble. And nothing happened.

The last card athletes like the Milwaukee Bucks and Brewers have left is to not play the games at all.

And now they’re not. Hopefully, this finally makes a difference.

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