This was a tough article to write.
I originally intended to write about the Islanders’ ongoing stadium situation, but circumstances arose that forced me to change the subject.
Those circumstances included police officer Rusten Sheskey unnecessarily shooting Jacob Blake while he was entering his car in Kenosha, Wisconsin earlier this week. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was trying to break up a fight that happened near his car; when he saw the police arrive, he thought his job was done and went back to his kids, who were in the car waiting for their father. Without warning, the officers drew their weapons on Blake, who was unarmed and who recently played the role of peacekeeper. As Blake was entering his car, Sheskey grabbed him from behind and shot him; not satisfied, Sheskey shot him six more times, with the intent to kill. Thankfully, Jacob Blake survived, but he was left indefinitely paralyzed from the waist down.
This act of senseless violence, after the well-documented (and also unnecessary) police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others, prompted several WNBA, and NBA players to sit out of their scheduled games on August 26th, 2020. Both NBA teams from LA reportedly polled to sit out the entire playoffs. Powerful speeches by former NBA stars Chris Webber, Kenny Smith, and coach Doc Rivers magnified the situation, as they all supported the players’ decisions. These strikes prompted athletes in other leagues to sit out of their games; three MLB games were postponed that night, as well as 5 MLS games.
As someone who watches the five major sports in this country, I was worried that the return of sports would be problematic, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That fear slowly chipped away as each season was progressing, MLS and the NWSL actually completed their return-to-play tournaments.
However, as Jemele Hill stated in a tweet, sports might’ve been “… canceled because of racism, not COVID.”
The NBA season is going to be cancelled because of racism, not COVID. Think about that.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) August 27, 2020
That brings me to a quote from Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle: “Sports are like the reward for a functioning society.”
He said this in the context of the COVID pandemic, but it can apply to the current wave of Black Lives Matter protests.
Athletes are humans with voices and platforms where they can get millions of people to listen to these voices; they have every right to strike on the league they play for, in order to make it known that the killing of unarmed Black people, accompanied with the mistreatment of anyone who isn’t a successful white male, will not be tolerated in this country. Athletes have these voices, but it’s the Black athletes who are using their voices the most. As they could be putting their careers on the line, white athletes for the most part aren’t using their voices to call out systemic racism that runs rampant in our society. Yes, they will sit out of games with other Black athletes, but it could be assumed that they wouldn’t be sitting out if it weren’t for their Black teammates. The best example of this is the NHL.
The NHL, a majority white league, is currently in the semifinals round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. All games were played that night, including one that started at 10:30 pm. The NHL will most likely keep going with their playoffs. Now I believe that the league must do more to help spread the word and fight the institutions of racism, including the Police Departments that have killed so many Black people for no reason other than “they were Black”.
According to Scott Burnside of the Athletic, the NHL took 27 seconds on August 26th to read a script and put the words “END RACISM” on the videoboards.
Then they went about their business and played their games. The NHL has never really been good at publicizing, rarely making national headlines like the NBA, NFL, or MLB has done in years past. Hockey players have to take initiative and decide to go on strike (not boycott). The message would’ve exemplified Sean Doolittle’s quote5 and say to the country “We are not functioning as a society. We will go on strike to let the nation know that we will not stand for its repeated injustice of interpersonal and systemic racism, and we won’t stop until we have some semblance of change.”
And it seems like players have taken the initiative: Evander Kane tweeted that he and the Hockey Diversity Alliance have requested to suspend games on August 27th, and August 28th, 2020, to send that message.
We the @TheOfficialHDA have formally requested the @NHL to suspend all playoff games today. We strongly feel this sends a clear message that human rights take priority over sports.
— Evander Kane (@evanderkane_9) August 27, 2020
The league complied: The NHL did not play on those dates, and everything was pushed back a couple of days. One could make the claim that this only happened through the pressure of other leagues partaking in the strike, and that going on strike won’t directly solve the problem of systemic racism in this country. But there is no doubt that these athletes want to make a better United States for everyone living in it, and are willing to temporarily part with their profession to get that point across. The Islanders will continue their series with the Flyers on August 29th.
They may be a few days old, but they are items everyone should see. There are also several other articles and tweets that I have read, but these were the most important to this article.
Sports will be back, and sports will be enjoyed by generations of children and adults alike as it always has. Sports will offer a unifying experience for people of all races, genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and nationalities.
Sports will persevere as they always have, but this temporary stoppage is indicative of the United States’ dysfunctional society, where professional athletes with huge platforms are using their voices for change.
This is not a moment; this is a movement.
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