Aug 27, 2020 - Sports

The day sports stopped

Sports balls assembled to form a cross.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The most historic day in sports activism history began in an empty gym.

What happened: The Milwaukee Bucks chose not to take the floor for Game 5 against the Magic, which led to all three NBA games being postponed — and most of the sports world following suit.

The backdrop: The Bucks' landmark decision came three days after Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wis., 45 minutes south of Milwaukee.

  • The Bucks said in a team statement (video): "Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball."

Why it matters: Many NBA players decided to participate in the "bubble" because it offered a platform to bring awareness to social justice issues. That was enough, in their minds, to offset any concerns about sports being a distraction.

  • But after the Blake shooting video surfaced, players began to question whether the anthem kneeling, "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts and pre-approved jersey causes were making a difference.
  • Now, they've gone off script. And in doing so, they've taken the conversation about sports' role in society to a place it's never quite been before.

The big picture: The NBA's postponement started a chain reaction.

  • 🏀 WNBA: The six teams scheduled to compete yesterday chose not play. "We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA," the players' union said.
  • ⚾️️ MLB: The Milwaukee Brewers were the first team to pull the plug on their game. Later, the Seattle Mariners and L.A. Dodgers did the same. While the NBA and WNBA are no strangers to political activism, this type of stance is new in baseball.
  • ⚽️️ MLS: Though the night's first game between Orlando and Nashville was played as scheduled, the remaining five games were postponed as the players collectively decided not to take the field.
  • ğŸŽ¾ Tennis: After Naomi Osaka withdrew from the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open (scheduled for today), tournament organizers suspended all Thursday matches.
  • 🏒 NHL: In a departure from other leagues, the NHL went ahead with both playoff games — one in Toronto and one in Edmonton.
Basketball players kneeling on the court..
Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
  • In Palmetto, Fla., after the WNBA postponed games, the Washington Mystics wore T-shirts with seven bullets on the back, to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

What's next: NBA players and coaches held a meeting Wednesday night inside a ballroom at the Coronado Spring Hotel. Teams were polled about how to proceed, and the Lakers and Clippers both voted to end the season, ESPN reports.

  • But it remains unclear what exactly the NBA can offer, and how far players are willing to go. While walking away sends a strong message, leaving the bubble would also reduce the power of the players' collective voices.
  • For now, all we know is that the six games scheduled for today will likely be postponed, and that the NBA's board of governors and the players will each meet at 11 a.m. ET to discuss next steps.

The bottom line: The NBA built a bubble to keep out the coronavirus, and so far, it's worked. But even the most stringent safety protocols and testing procedures couldn't shield it from America.

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