Recently, President Donald Trump said that the NBA is a political organization. For the first time in a long time, he was right.
Eighty percent of the NBA’s workforce — its players — are Black. And most of those players grew up in lower-class neighborhoods and were directly affected by racist policies and systems rooted in slavery. If they are explicitly political and working towards equality and justice for Black people, blame America, not them.
When the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for their contest against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday afternoon, beginning what became a collective effort from NBA players to sit out playoff games and effectively strike for Black lives, there was immediate skepticism from fans. It didn’t matter that other sports had joined in and broadened the conversation surrounding anti-Black racism. To some people, the only question was: what now?
That should never be your first thought or question. If it is, it means you are not giving enough credit to the athletes for starting a labour strike; for being the first members of American society to go on strike for Black lives when, in reality, the work should be the responsibility of the oppressors, not the oppressed.
If anything, your first question should be this: what can I do to help?
I’m going to break down what the NBA players’ strike has already accomplished, where it can go from here, and what you can do to help.
What the strike has already accomplished:
NBA games resumed on Saturday afternoon, making the strike last just three days. The timing doesn’t matter, though. Sure, the players might have been able to accomplish more if they left the bubble all together and ended the season, but the minute they went on strike was the minute they proved that they had leverage and power, and they used that leverage to get a number of things done.
First of all, the players union got the league and its owners to commit to three incredibly important actions:
1. Every team-owned arena will turn into a polling place for the November election.
2. They will establish a “social justice coalition” of players, coaches and owners. Along with increasing access to voting, the coalition is focused on “promoting civil engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.”
3. The league, players, and broadcast partners will work on developing advertisements promoting “greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.”
Secondly, they set the tone for other athletes, as players from the MLB, MLS, NHL, and tennis joined the strike and sat out games of their own. This might have been virtue signaling on the part of some of these athletes, but it forced sports to come to a stop for a couple of days, which meant that it forced the only source of live entertainment people have during COVID to stop, which hopefully forced a lot of people to educate themselves about what, specifically, these athletes are protesting. As we know, sports are a distraction, and the strike forced a lot of people who would normally use sports to get away from the news cycle to instead embrace it and learn.
Another thing that the NBA players’ strike accomplished was a humanization of Black athletes and, consequently, Black people. By standing up for what they believe in and using their platforms to talk about the issues affecting them personally — such as the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin — they bridged a gap between athlete and human. They showed how they are humans first, and that regardless of the money they make or the privileges they have, these issues still directly affect them and their communities.
Often when athletes make a statement, it becomes solely about the statement and the nuance of who they are and why they are protesting gets lost. NBA players forced people to reckon with the fact that their statements and protests are who they are. The person and the action cannot be separated. These athletes are Black on and off the court. They are human, and it’s important for every fan to acknowledge that.
Where it can go from here:
I recently interviewed American fencer Race Imboden, who had this to say about the role of sports in society:
“Sports is the best example we have of the people that actually don’t [seem to] have the power, that don’t run the organizations, having complete control. It’s a living example of society… Imagine if they were essential workers: the second that they stop, that system shuts down. And we’re starting to realize that the power lies within the hands of the people. And so I think that sports as a platform is teaching people that they have the power.
“If anything this platform for change hopefully is the catalyst and example people take to see that the power still remains with the people of promise and the people that are doing work, not the people that are running the system.”
In other words, the NBA players’ strike could be the catalyst for other industries to perform similar strikes for Black lives. We have already seen players from other sports leagues do it, but the reality is that any industry could do something similar. America has a history of labour strikes affecting change because the working class really does have the power, and I think the NBA is teaching them how to use it. I think it’s possible that we see other industries follow the NBA’s lead on this.
One of those industries where the labour force is reportedly thinking about a similar strike is the NFL, the most popular sports league in America and one with a similarly Black workforce but a very conservative, white fan base. An NFL players’ strike could have an enormous impact on American politics because the players do have the power to not play until they get what they want and the billionaire owners do have the resources to make things happen. That doesn’t mean they will listen to their players, but if it comes down to no football or helping their players, they might help.
What you can do:
Finally, what can you do as a person who might be living in Toronto, Canada do to help the NBA players and Black people across North America?
First of all, educate yourself. Reflect on the privileges you have and, on top of educating yourself, have conversations with people who are directly affected by these issues in order to emphasize with them. Empathy will change your perspective.
Secondly, if you are in a position to strike for Black lives, talk to your colleagues about doing it. Figure out if you have the leverage to get things done and, if you do, organize a strike and think about what you would want from your employer before returning to work.
Finally, you can donate your time and resources towards the cause. Here are some organizations that need volunteers or monetary support:
Maybe If It Was Me campaign (100% of profits donated to the Black Legal Action Centre in Toronto)
And you can read about a whole host of Black Toronto-based organizations and fundraisers here.
Also, here is how you can get in contact with the Kenosha District Attorney, Mayor, and DOJ to demand justice for Jacob Blake:
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 26, 2020