‘Enough Is Enough!’
Last weekend in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the latest instance of police racially profiling and shooting a Black person took place. 29-year-old Jacob Blake was chased to his car and shot multiple times in the back by police officers.
The most formidable iteration of American sports teams taking action after the latest senseless attack on a Black man took place this week. First, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play and forfeited a game. Then, the Lakers and other teams threatened to pull out. The NBA said Tuesday’s games were postponed. They weren’t. LeBron James reminded everyone that the players were boycotting the games. Tuesday also happened to be the four year anniversary of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s first knee.
Quickly, momentum spread to the Women’s NBA, Major League Baseball and the NFL. On Monday, the Detroit Lions stole a march on everyone by cancelling training for the day and conveying a message of solidarity to Jacob Blake’s family. The player-led movement in the NFL that I described in June, was unleashed after the murder of George Floyd. The players felt the need to reprimand the NFL for a poorly crafted statement after’s Floyd’s murder. The video, forcing the NFL to make a much more substantial comment, was organized by some of the NFL’s leading players: Michael Thomas, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. With the shooting of Jacob Blake, NFL players and teams appear to be in the next phase of their response, with the regular season ten days away.
Come Together, Right Now The message from the players is clear. The time for sitting around is over. Football and activism are not mutually exclusive. We, the players, have a duty as leaders to act. The stunning statement from the Baltimore Ravens needs to have its main points summarized and repeated, because it was so specific and direct. The move came after the Ravens practiced and then had a moving, lengthy meeting between players and Ravens staff. They wanted to provide a clear mission of specific action steps to reach a stated goal:
Enough is enough! This is bigger than sports. We must as a society unify and end racism.
Arrest and charge the police officers responsible for Breonna Taylor's killing and the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Demand that Senator Mitch McConnell bring the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 to the Senate floor for vote.
End qualified immunity; require body cameras; ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants; hold police accountable in court; establish a framework to prohibit racial profiling at federal, state, and local levels.
Encourage everyone to engage in the political process by registering to vote on both the local and national level. (www.risetovote.turbovote.org.)
Demand prison sentencing reform that is fair and equitable.
Encourage every citizen to act with respect and compliance when engaging with the police.
A Player-Led Movement
Multiple NFL teams called off practice after the Jacob Blake shooting. The Green Bay Packers leadership council met with head coach Matt LaFleur, and afterwards screened Ava DuVernay's 13th, a documentary on the history of racial inequality in the U.S. and America’s prison industry. After George Floyd’s murder, Patrick Mahomes played a starring role in the aforementioned Michael Thomas Goodell call-to-action video that woke up the NFL, and also partnered with LeBron James and other luminaries in an effort to fight voter suppression.
Talking recently to Peter King of NBC’s ProFootballTalk, Mahomes outlined his reasons for speaking out. “I know that with my platform that I have the ability to speak out and people will listen. People will at least listen to what I’m saying. They might not agree with everything that I’m saying but they’re gonna listen. I think having that platform . . . it’s my job and my duty to speak up.”
Bigger Than Sports
Sports in America are navigating the choppy waters of a triumvirate of crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, deep racial and social unrest. Team sports are at their best when the players are able to express themselves, on the field and off it. I think from a football standpoint, the teams that emerge as battle tested and most together units because of the off field issues, will be most successful this season. It is hard not to be impressed by how the players have responded. Undoubtedly, having some of the most high profile players in sports driving the issue has helped raise awareness and allowed others to speak out. Football has over 70% Black players - teammates are standing in solidarity with their teammates of color. Never before have sports spoken so emphatically.
The NFL in its unprecedented statement in June after the muder of George Floyd told the players that they had their backs. Commissioner Roger Goddell has spoken in more conciliatory tones about Colin Kaepernick. The level of contrition and regret seems genuine.
We are two weeks from the start of the NFL regular season. I think that the NFL and franchises need to be realistic that the players might want to sit out a week, at least, at some point. For sure, they want to play football but the stakes are also too high. They have seen other U.S. professional sports codes make their statement during the season. It's only logical that they might want to do the same. We should be proud of how the players have conducted themselves thus far, I certainly aim, and back them in delivering what is going to be a profoundly difficult season.
As we’ve learned over the past six months, global pandemics and racism don't just disappear. Confronting them head on and wanting to profoundly change things in the long term is the kind of sentiment in football players and people we should foster.