Does boycotting games in professional sports help fight police brutality?


Fact Box

  • Professional sports in North America are rarely ever suspended, besides 9/11, natural disasters, the recent COVID-19 outbreak. On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with the Orlando Magic.
  • The NBA and NBPA issued a joint statement on August 28, stating their next steps to support social justice and racial equality, mentioning the implementation of social justice representatives on a range of issues, arena properties being turned into voting locations for the 2020 election, and advertisements promoting civic engagement and awareness. 
  • Because professional athletes’ popularity spans across so many racial, generational, and political lines, they have a unique platform to become activists.
  • Sports have brought attention to political and racial issues for years, from Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick, and now, the recent shooting of Jacob Blake and death of George Floyd, among others.

Tyler (Yes)

Recent boycotts of NBA playoff games will effectively pressure influential, politically-involved billionaire owners to incite change in the local government. The Milwaukee Bucks became the first team to refuse to play this season, as Wisconsin is where the Jacob Blake shooting took place. Mallory Edens, daughter of Bucks owner Wes Edens, publicly expressed her support with the players' decisions to boycott.

In 1961, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Bill Russell, and several Celtics teammates took a valiant stand against racism by boycotting a game after being refused service at a restaurant due to their skin color. Celtics owner Walter Brown gave the players his full support and paved the way for owners to fight against racial discrimination. The Celtics later became the first team in NBA history to start five black players in one game. Many NBA players later credited Brown for being the reason that black players were allowed to be drafted into the league in the first place.

After threatening to boycott the 2014 NBA playoffs due to racial statements made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling, he was forced to sell the team, and the league made immense strides in promoting social justice causes. This instance served as an example of players recognizing the power they hold in their respective organizations. Fans across the league grew upset that the NBA season was in jeopardy and immediately called for Sterling's resignation. By boycotting the games, players force the fans that they consistently entertain to choose a side in this moral debacle.

Noah (No)

Players boycotting their professional sports games does nothing to help fight police brutality. On top of that, the premise of the boycott is built on misinformation. There are no substantial data backing claims of American police officers exhibiting widespread racial bias. And there is no evidence work stoppages make a difference. Players walking off the job isn't technically a boycott at all. Legally, they are 'wildcat strikes' and are untenable. Players could feasibly have any issue they're upset about and demand a strike, which would lead to havoc with game schedules, TV commitments, and NBA-fan relationships. Wildcat strikes are meant to influence the media and team owners. Refusing to play NBA games en masse places is meant to pressure the powerful, politically-connected owners to promote changes in policies. But exploiting the media brings up the question as to why the players only speak up when the issues make big headlines and social media news. 

Injustices are happening to Black males and their families with far more frequency and damage every day, and yet players are silent. David Dorn, the former St. Louis Black police captain and a former Chief of Police of Moline Acres, was shot dead protecting a business during the St. Louis riots. No word from the NBA or its players, and certainly no work stoppage occurred for this murdered Black policeman. Where's the players' outrage over China's many human rights abuses? China's sway over the NBA is immense, but where is their courage to stand for the captive Uighur Muslims? Wildcat strikes may make big news, but in the end, won't bring about changes that players hope will happen.

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