The balls were put away and the scoreboards were shut down as the NBA turned silent Wednesday. No matter where you stand — politically, culturally, philosophically — that is a good thing.
We need more silence. We need more reflection. We need more grace.
Maybe this extraordinary moment in sports is an opportunity to finally listen instead of shouting. Being quiet for the next few minutes is not a life-and-death choice for you or me, but it could be for others if we take the time to understand the message we’re missing.
Because that’s what this protest is about. It often gets hijacked and veers in extreme directions when the marching and screaming and counter protests begin. But what NBA players chose to do by boycotting playoff games Wednesday was simply to ask the world to pay attention.
What happened this week in Kenosha, Wisc., and Minneapolis, Louisville, Ferguson and New York before that, might be rare in a statistical sense, but it is part of a larger pattern of Black men and women being treated differently in America’s criminal justice system. Whether that is sentencing, or stop-and-frisk policies or tragedies such as George Floyd and Jacob Blake, you cannot reasonably suggest that disparities do not exist.
In that sense, this statement of silence by NBA players is terribly overdue.
Consider that Wednesday’s boycott came exactly four years to the day that Colin Kaepernick declined to stand for a 49ers preseason football game. Kaepernick was protesting systematic racism in the country, but his decision somehow became a referendum on military support, political divides and American exceptionalism.
Perhaps you disagreed with Kaepernick’s method of protest. That’s entirely understandable. We all have different life experiences that shape our view of the world. Yet, wasn’t that Kaepernick’s point?
He was trying draw attention to his concerns about being a person of color in this nation. He did it knowing that he would be criticized and knowing that his job might be at stake. And, ultimately, that proved to be the case.
Which brings us to where we are today with the NBA, and athletes taking the unprecedented step of temporarily shutting down a postseason.
Athletes have spoken louder than ever this year in the wake of Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Protesters have taken to the streets all across the nation in hopes of seeing meaningful reforms. And for all the fury and talk, a Black man still could be shot in the back seven times with his children watching nearby.
I will leave it up to investigators and prosecutors to decide whether officers reasonably may have been in fear for their lives, and whether they could, or should, have handled the entire confrontation differently. As a white man who was taught cops were always the good guys and have never personally been treated otherwise, I have that luxury.
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But too many Black men and women have had vastly different experiences, and that reality cannot be ignored. So another tragic shooting in the midst of all these protests became too much for NBA players to bear. And they were willing to risk wrath and paychecks and playoff games to do something about it.
Former Orlando Magic and current Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers is the son of a policeman. He spoke passionately and eloquently about the topic the night before the boycott, pointing out the irony of speeches at the Republican National Convention that warned of the dangers of having protesters in the streets.
“We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that (are) denied to live in certain communities,” Rivers said. “We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about (their) fear.”
If there are any encouraging signs on an otherwise sober day, it is the reaction that the boycott brought. Unlike Kaepernick, who was tacitly shunned by the NFL hierarchy, NBA owners and officials rallied around the Milwaukee Bucks when they refused to come out of the locker room for their game against the Magic. Within hours, the other NBA playoff games were postponed, and the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, followed by the Seattle Mariners-San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants cancel, jointly decided not to play Major League Baseball games.
It’s easy to sit in judgment of these players today. It’s easy to say they should keep politics out of the workplace.
What is harder is to try to understand, and empathize, with the point that is being made.
And now you’ve had a quiet moment to think about it.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.