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  • Writer's pictureNathan Max

Pro Athletes Play Their Final Card

Photo credit: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images. WNBA players wear shirts with seven faux bullet holes in the back.

They have tried to kneel during the National Anthem, and they were called “sons of bitches.”

They have tried to speak out against racial injustice, and they were told to “shut up and dribble.”

Now, professional athletes are playing the last card they have left. And that is to simply not play at all.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for Game 5 of their NBA first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic to protest police brutality and systemic racism in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting in nearby Kenosha, Wis. By the end of the night, five other NBA teams joined their protest, as did athletes representing the WNBA, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and professional tennis.

WNBA players took the court and knelt wearing shirts emblazoned with seven bullet holes in the back, symbolizing the location and number of times a white police officer shot Blake, a Black man, in front of his children as he tried to get in his car Sunday.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, two teams with a legitimate shot of winning the NBA title, are considering boycotting the remainder of the season. Biracial Japanese tennis sensation Naomi Osaka, meanwhile, has pulled herself out of the Western & Southern Open, where she was slated to compete in the semifinals Thursday.

In all, three NBA playoff games, three WNBA games, four Major League Baseball games and five Major League Soccer games were postponed Wednesday because players would not participate.

By refusing to take the court, the Milwaukee Bucks delivered a seminal moment in American history, on par with Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the 1968 Olympics. These men have etched their names alongside boxing legend Muhammad Ali and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick among athletes fighting for social justice.

They have raised the bar for those of us who seek to protest peacefully, and they have raised the stakes for everyone who relies on their labor, be it emotionally or financially. Small gestures are not enough anymore. They clearly have not worked. Bold and decisive action is required, and that is precisely what is happening.

Violence against African-Americans is nothing new. It has been going on for decades. What has changed is the public’s awareness of it.

Black Americans have told us for years that they have been brutalized by police, and white America didn’t believe them. But now every citizen in this country is armed with a video camera on their cell phone, and the images we have captured have been undeniable.

Despite all the outrage, despite all the protests and despite all the recriminations, the violence continues.

Whether it be Ahmaud Arbery being run down in the street by a couple vigilantes in Georgia, Breonna Taylor being murdered in her bed while she slept in Kentucky, George Floyd having his life sucked out of him on the streets of Minnesota or Jacob Blake being shot seven times in the back from point-blank range outside a relative’s home in Wisconsin, it hasn’t stopped.

These athletes are just as appalled by what they are seeing as the rest of us, but they have a platform. Their voice extends far beyond ours. Millions worldwide rely on the entertainment they provide, particularly now when there isn’t much else to do.

All other avenues of peaceful resistance have not gotten through to the federal government, several state governments and particularly local law-enforcement entities, so it has come down to this.

A strong message is required, and these courageous athletes are delivering it.

They are taking our games away.


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