The NBA wades into politics
Amid a national reckoning on race that has consumed the sports world, NBA players are poised to shape the conversation — and perhaps even influence the upcoming election.
The state of play: The NBA bubble has been politicized from the start, with social justice messages everywhere. But the Milwaukee Bucks' strike on Wednesday set a new bar and made the NBA a leader in a movement it had previously only participated in.
- President Trump responded on Thursday, saying the NBA has "become more like a political organization."
- "They've put a lot of slogans out, but I think what we need to do is turn that [into] actual action," added Jared Kushner.
Driving the news: LeBron James has already taken action by heading up More Than A Vote, an athlete-led group devoted to fighting voter suppression in Black electoral districts and turning stadiums into polling sites for Election Day.
- The non-profit organization, which is made up of Black athletes from the NBA and other leagues, just launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to address poll worker shortages.
- Since voting site volunteers are typically older, there's concern about them staying home this year due to COVID-19 risks, so election officials are grateful for the spotlight athletes are bringing to the issue.
- "This is the ballgame," Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told NYT. "This is not just an important partnership. This is critical."
The big picture: While their Black activist predecessors acted alone or in small groups, today's NBA players have strength in numbers.
- When Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, he couldn't stay in the same hotels or eat at the same restaurants as his teammates.
- When the Bucks went on strike, they were inside a different kind of bubble — one that has brought players closer together and unified the league.
"In a college campus-like environment they've studied history, discussed politics and watched the news — doing all this as a group, undistracted by travel and personal lives to an extent that would not have been possible outside the bubble as illness, violence and chaos have swirled outside."— Jonathan Eig, WashPost
The bottom line: As a new generation of athletes gets more involved politically, the role of sports changes. This comes at a cost, and NBA writers have already suggested that it's hurting viewership.
- But it also leads to new possibilities — like voting at Dodger Stadium.