ROBBINS NEST By Lenn Robbins
One of these days, years from now, we will look back on August 26, 2020 as the day NBA players, in one grand voice shouted without a sound – “F— THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
“F— THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
Clearly the time for words, LeBron James’s words, was over. If words had worked their magic in these few months Jacob Blake would not, could not, be lying in a Wisconsin hospital bed fighting for his life.
Being a police officer is the toughest job in America, especially now when all eyes are on every man and woman in uniform. We still haven’t heard from the officers but if there is no such thing as systemic racism, how could an unarmed Black man in this climate get shot seven times in the back while getting into his vehicle, where his three children innocently, unknowingly sat in harm’s way?
Obviously, the roll call of the dead – Stephon Clark, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor and too many more – had not been enough to force the immediate change that has been demanded since May 20th when Floyd’s life breath was snuffed out.
Perhaps it was the awful, raw, minutes-long footage of Floyd’s callous killing that ushered this Black Lives Matter movement from the communities of color to the forefront of the nation. Or perhaps it was the realization that it doesn’t take a bullet to kill a man or woman of color. A strategically placed knee is just as deadly.
At least twice, Black men have cried out for their mothers as they gasped their final desperate words, “I Can’t Breathe. I Can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe….” Still, an unarmed black man could be shot in the back seven times.
The Milwaukee Bucks, no strangers to excessive police force, held a team meeting Tuesday according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. When they arrived for Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic, basketball wasn’t on their minds. There had to be a stronger statement to make, a stronger way to make that statement.
“There’s a lot of concern, there’s a lot of conversation, there’s a lot of frustration, but I also think our players want to find a way to fight for better and there’s lots of different ways to do that,” coach Mike Budenholzer
said before the 3 p.m. schedule tip. “I think everything is under consideration.”
The considerable decision was to boycott the game. Imagine that. A league that didn’t have a Black player until 1950 now has players with the conviction and power to say:
Hear this, “F— THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
Imagine that in an interrupted season, the Bucks chose to take away the one thing America had been spent months yearning for – the return of games. Yes, a stronger statement; a stronger way to make that statement.
The Bucks didn’t take the court. Even the Magic weren’t aware the Bucks had decided it was time for action over not words.
Within hours, the NBA announced that all three of Wednesday’s game – Magic vs Bucks, Rockets at Thunder, Lakers at Trail Blazers – had been rescheduled.
Perhaps another franchise wouldn’t have taken such action but excessive use of force against Black men tasers a Bucks nerve. Bucks guard Sterling Brown was tasered in 2018 and had an officer kneel on his neck over a parking violation in a Walgreen’s parking lot.
Sports has never seen an action like this – a team’s decision to boycott prompting a league to reschedule not just games but playoff games. By Wednesday evening MLB and the WNBA had taken up the mantle with team’s choosing not to play.
“At the end of the day, if we’re gonna sit here and talk about making change, then at some point we’re gonna have to put our nuts on the line and actually put something up to lose, rather than just money or visibility,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet told reporters.
Consider that. Basketball has provided an economic opportunity for some, especially men and women a color. The right to play has been a hard fought one. Yet players are willing to sacrifice gains that were decades in the making because words have failed, action is needed.
It’s saddening and sobering to come to the realization that the Bucks and other teams have: Sports can’t go forward if the fate of Black men and women remain in peril. Maybe the time to link the two is long overdue.