Basketball, Baseball Facing Racial Injustice Head On

On Sunday, the Astros postponed the final game of their three-game series against Oakland, but not for the reasons you may have thought. After an A’s player tested positive for COVID-19, teams called off the game as part of MLB protocols. You would be forgiven if you thought the cancellation was about something else or if you had forgotten about coronavirus altogether given the events of the previous week.

At the end of last week, NBA teams walked out of the playoffs following the death of Kenosha, Wisconsin man Jacob Blake at the hands of police. Reportedly, at least two NBA teams voted to end the season immediately.

Similarly, MLB players dramatically walked off fields around the league. On Friday, the Astros and A’s walked on the field for 42 seconds of silence before placing a pair of No. 42 jerseys and a Black Lives Matter shirt at home plate before leaving the field and calling off the game. The jersey bore the familiar number of Jackie Robinson, as the day that honors him each season was this weekend.

When the Astros were forced to skip the game on Sunday thanks to COVID, it felt almost anticlimactic. Even as lives across the world have been gripped by the pandemic, the NBA, inside its bubble, has remained virus free, while baseball has managed to tamp down early outbreaks that threatened to derail its already shortened season. Instead, the social upheaval surrounding the killing of Black men and women by police, like Blake, Breona Taylor and George Floyd, and the ensuing protests cast against the backdrop of a presidential election, has dominated conversations and actions among athletes.

Rightfully so.

Despite being widely criticized since Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem, players have continued to voice their anger and frustration with systemic racism in the country. And, at least in the Association, owners have embraced their approach, allowing displays like messaging on jerseys and even on the courts themselves.

But, this past week felt different. Black people around the country have said they feel exhausted by the near constant barrage of news related to police shootings and the emergence of white nationalist groups, never mind President Trump’s unwillingness to do much more than throw gasoline on the fire.

That exhaustion clearly reached athletes, who are often told to shut up and play sports. But, these are humans, mostly Americans and many Black Americans. Who could blame them? And they understand their fame gives them a unique platform to speak up and speak out, and their leagues are giving them the freedom to do so.

The end result was a set of initiatives to promote social justice in the NBA and go even further by supporting voting initiatives including opening 29 arenas, including Toyota Center, as voting centers during the general election. Players, coaches and owners appear to be poised to not just use their platform to raise voices, but to affect real change, including among their own — a recent report said only 20 percent of NBA players were registered to vote, something the league clearly aims to change this year.

Professional athletes are trying to turn their voices of protest into meaningful actions even with the pandemic continuing to threaten lives and livelihoods. What could be more American than that?

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