As the NBA neared its restart in July after the implications of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, its players vowed to keep the calls for social justice reform at the forefront in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The basketball stars were not the only from the sports community to act.
In a most unusual year already thrown into chaos by the COVID-19 pandemic, many athletes took unprecedented steps when a nationwide reckoning on race spilled into the streets of American cities after the death of Floyd, a Black man, during a May arrest in Minneapolis.
Normally focused on the games they play, this time the sports world stood up — U.S. Open tennis champion Naomi Osaka, NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace, the NFL’s Malcolm Jenkins and Kenny Stills, WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike, and basketball’s Chris Paul, LeBron James and Steph Curry were among the most prominent players to help turn protest cries of “Black Lives Matter,” “Say His Name” and “Say Her Name” into tangible action.
The NBA painted “Black Lives Matter” on the courts inside their Orlando, Florida, “bubble” and social justice messages were emblazoned on the backs of jerseys. Players and coaches during “The Star-Spangled Banner” locked arms and knelt.
Kneeling, which drew the ire of President Donald Trump and several team owners when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started doing it in 2016 to protest racial injustice, became a ubiquitous gesture during the national anthem this year — and during rallies after Floyd was killed by a white police officer who pressed a knee against his neck for nearly eight minutes.
As excitement built as games returned, another sobering moment pushed the sports world to mobilize. Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times by police on August 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Three days later, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play against the Orlando Magic and demanded Wisconsin officials address police brutality. The whole league shut down temporarily, with other sports such as Major League Baseball, the WNBA, the National Hockey League and the National Football League halting games and practices.
Osaka – whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese – declared she would not play her semifinal of a US Open tune-up tournament after Blake’s shooting. Other tennis players expressed support and the tournament was halted for one day, prompting Osaka to remain in the draw.
(With inputs from Agencies)
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