The Impact of Sports: Athletes Standing in Solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement

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Sophia Napolitano

American sports leagues have made sure that fans know they believe in the message of “Black Lives Matter.” The calls for social justice in professional sports have been so impactful that games have been postponed and large demonstrations have been made. There is no denying that athletes have large and powerful platforms. Professional athletes all around the world are highly paid and extremely influential. In a time where unrest has rapidly spread across the country, many believe it is essential that professional sports leagues display their support of the ever-growing, passionate movement. Sports have been able to resume after months of lockdown; however, they have resumed with a new spark. Not with one just about winning the World Series or the playoffs, but one that called for social justice and equal treatment of all American citizens. 

The National Basketball Association (NBA), 75% of its league being black, has used its playoffs to call for social justice. When the playoffs began on July 31, every player kneeled for the national anthem, a demonstration started by Colin Kaepernick, an ex-NFL quarterback. All players wore shirts with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” on the front. CNN reported all-star Lebron James’ feelings on why the NBA did what it did: “We understand what’s going on in society right now, and we’re using this NBA platform as the players, as the coaches, as organizations to continue to stand strong on that.” Along with pre-game acts of solidarity, players across the league wore jerseys donned with phrases such as “I Can’t Breathe,” in reference to the killing of George Floyd; “Say Her Name,” alluding to the death of Breonna Taylor; and more general phrases such as “Peace” and “Equality,” National Review shared. 

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, another unfortunate event took place: Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Just three days later, the Milwaukee Bucks did not leave their locker room for the start of a playoff game. Bucks Vice President Alex Lasry released a statement on why his team did what it did: “Some things are bigger than basketball. The stand taken by the players and organization shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough… Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change,” Forbes shared. The rest of the league followed suit, and all playoff games were postponed for two days. People recognized the movements going on, and junior Colin Lung believed sports leagues showed support for the movement because “The players felt like it was their duty, having a big audience and thus a lot of influence on the public. to make a difference [more than] just a ‘game.’ The players came together and unified under something they strongly believed in.” Bucks Guard George Hill expressed his frustration with the situation in America, which led him and his team to sit out of their games: “…It’s just sickening, it’s a heartless situation… Like I said, you are supposed to look at the police to protect and serve. And now, it’s looked at them to harass or shoot. We can’t do anything…,” Counter Punch (counterpunch.org) reported. The spark that the NBA ignited spread across all sports leagues and rippled throughout American society. 

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) followed the Bucks and postponed many of their playoff games, Harpers Bazaar reported. Additionally, upon returning to play, players of the Mystics wore symbolic t-shirts with seven bullet holes, alluding to the amount of gunshots fired at Jacob Blake. Mystics player Ariel Aktins explained, “[The Mystics] wanted everybody to feel like they were supported,” shared Harpers Bazaar. On a larger scale, the entire WNBA season has been dedicated to Breonna Taylor and the “Say Her Name” campaign, CNN reported. Assistant Coach of the Minnesota Lynx Rebekkah Brunson shared her thoughts on the struggle that has come to light in America: “What is happening now is not new. Racism and unjust phobic fear of Black males and disregard of Black females is very real. When we look at the facts, it’s hard to deny there’s a real problem in our society…if we take this time to see that this is a human issue, and speak out together, we can greatly decrease fear and create change.” The league has stated that it will not stop fighting for social and racial justice when the season is over. 

Though having a small contingent of black athletes, both the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) have demonstrated their outrage with the current situation in America. Before the first playoff games of the resumed season, all NHL teams linked arms, and some players kneeled. The hashtag “WeSkateforBLACKLIVES” was displayed throughout the playoff sites, and over 140 players have posted in support of social justice, The New York Times reported. Additionally, when the NBA cancelled its games in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, the NHL did the same. Ryan Reaves, one of the few black NHL players, explained why he thought the postponement was so important in the NHL: “I think if you look around this room, there’s a lot of white athletes in here, and I think that’s the statement that’s being made right now…It’s great that the NBA did this and the MLB and the WNBA. They have a lot of Black players in those leagues. But for all these [white] athletes in here just to take a stand and say, ‘You know what? We see the problem too and we stand behind you,’” the NHL’s website (nhl.com) shared. Junior Lily Cohen felt that all sports leagues showed their support for the movement to help it “gain more supporters.”

The MLB organization has also supported the movement. CNN reported that on Opening Day, players on the Nationals, Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants, wore patches that read “Black Lives Matter” and “United for Change.” Additionally, during the national anthem, a black ribbon was held by each team and all of its players, and some players kneeled. Moreover, the National Review reported that “Black Lives Matter” was stenciled into some pitchers’ mounds. 

The National Football League (NFL) is the most recent league to display messages in support of this movement. On opening day, just a couple of weeks ago, the words “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” were painted in the end zones. The NFL released an official statement that read, “As we continue to amplify and elevate the NFL’s ongoing and long-term commitment to social justice, we will be incorporating several prominent elements on the field, into all broadcasts and across league and club platforms to begin the NFL season and beyond.” Almost all American sports leagues have stood in solidarity with the movement, and Lung explained why he felt this was impactful, and how it made him feel: “I think the demonstrations by the sports leagues were impactful because players from all kinds of sports (soccer, baseball, basketball, football) all did something to show how they felt. The demonstrations made me feel like I [need] to be a part of something to make a change.”

The platform that professional sports leagues have in America is large and prominent. They have not backed down for a second when protesting for social justice and reform. Their protests have been impactful, and a senior shared, “Kaepernick was one of the first [to demonstrate], but as of late, many other sports teams have been doing the same. Personally, it excites me to see how seriously the athletes treat social issues, and I think it is great that they use their platforms in the way that they have been.” Their efforts continue to be talked about and are not done yet. Many organizations have been formed within the leagues to support Black Lives Matter. One thing is for sure: professional athletes are not done fighting for a just system and an equal nation.