Protests against perceived racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of another police shooting of a Black man spread to the National Football League Thursday, one day after players from the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks opted not to take part in a playoff game.
The NFL’s Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, the New York Jets and the Washington Football Team canceled practices in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin.
The shooting happened three months after George Floyd, another Black man, died in police custody in the midwestern city of Minneapolis, sparking nationwide protests.
The Jets did not immediately disclose why practice was canceled, but the Lions tweeted they called off practice “in response to the police shooting of Jason Blake” and added that, “We won’t be silent.”
The Packers tweeted: “Enough is enough. It’s time for a change.”
Enough is enough.— Green Bay Packers (@packers) June 4, 2020
It's time for change. pic.twitter.com/AS7wP9qz2x
And the Colts said: “THE TEAM WILL USE THE DAY TO DISCUSS AND WORK TOWARD MAKING A LASTING SOCIAL IMPACT AND INSPIRING CHANGE IN OUR COMMUNITIES.”
Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera said in a statement that “the players, coaches and football staff will meet as a football family and we’ll continue our open dialogue on the issues of racism and social injustice in our country.”
Players for the Bucks opted not to play Wednesday night in order to call attention to perceived injustices against the African American community and call for lawmakers and law enforcement to institute meaningful changes.
The decision had wide-ranging reverberations throughout the country, and by the end of the night the other two scheduled NBA games were postponed, as were all three Women’s National Basketball Association games, three Major League Baseball games and five Major League Soccer Games as players expressed the importance of protesting injustice over playing games. Tennis player Naomi Osaka also announced she would not play her Thursday semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open, and officials later postponed all tournament play for Thursday.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ action came in direct response to the police shooting of Blake in the city of Kenosha, about 60 kilometers away, as well as ongoing frustrations about the history of police brutality and racial inequality in the United States.
“The past four months we've witnessed multiple injustices regarding the African American community,” the players said in a statement. “Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings. Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we've seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protesters. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
The Bucks called for the officers involved in Blake’s shooting to be held accountable, and for the Wisconsin legislature to take action to address “police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”
“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement,” the players said.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, among the most high-profile players in the league, tweeted: “WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
Players from the WNBA joined to kneel, lock arms and raise their fists in a show of solidarity on the night they chose not to play.
“We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA, and will continue this conversation with our brothers and sisters across all leagues and look to take collective action,” Atlanta Dream player Elizabeth Williams read in a statement from all of the players.
The WNBA players urged fans to use their voting power and to become engaged on the issues in order to make a difference.
“Your voice matters. Your vote matters. Do all you can to demand that your leaders stop with the empty words and do something,” the players said.
Senior White House adviser and U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, weighed in on the actions taken by the NBA players, telling CNBC they are “very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work.”
Later in an interview with Politico, Kushner added that “It’s nice that they’re standing up for the issue, but I’d like to see them start moving into concrete solutions that are productive.” He said he planned to call Los Angeles Laker star James about the matter.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama said he commends the Milwaukee Bucks “for standing for what they believe in,” as well Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers and the rest of the NBA and WNBA “for setting an example.”
“It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values,” Obama said.
Wednesday marked four years since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained national attention for not standing during the playing of the national anthem before his team’s preseason game.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said after the 2016 game. His teammate, Eric Reid, said that in the weeks that followed, after consideration and speaking with a former player who had served in the U.S. Army, the two decided to kneel during the anthem as their form of protest.
Other football players joined, as did those in other leagues, and the protests took altered forms including players not coming onto a field or court during the anthem or locking arms with teammates. There has been sharp criticism from those who say the protests taking place during the anthem are disrespectful to the country and the military, including from President Donald Trump.
Players have repeatedly stressed that what they are doing is raising awareness of police brutality and racial inequality.
Some athletes have also decided to forgo playing at all in order to focus their time on reform efforts. WNBA star Maya Moore is skipping her second consecutive season as she works on criminal justice reform. Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics took this season off to focus on social reform as well.