In America, there are two ways to get what you want.
The first is by educating, organizing, and using your platform to work within the confines of the American democratic system. The NBA and WNBA did that. The athletes were on the frontlines of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, then the NBA went on strike until they got their arenas turned into voting centers for the presidential election, and they helped get Black people to vote in record numbers that favoured the Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
The WNBA, meanwhile, has been one of the most organized institutions in America over the last few years, full stop. On top of pushing voting for the presidential election, they fundamentally influenced one of the Senate races in Georgia, where incumbent Republican and owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream Kelly Loeffler was a favourite to be re-elected before she spoke out against Black Lives Matter and the athletes consequently used their platforms to get her competitor, Raffael Warnock, elected as the first Black Senator in Georgia. The WNBA literally helped flip the Senate, which now has a slight Democratic majority, which means significant laws can actually get passed in the next four years if Biden keeps his word.
The other way to get what you want in America is by doing what Donald Trump has done over the last four-plus years: It’s by cheating the system.
On Wednesday, Trump told thousands of his supporters at a rally just blocks away from the Capitol, where Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress were certifying the electoral college votes that Trump still insists are fraudulent, to “walk down there… to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
Trump incited a violent mob that stormed the Capitol; one that broke into one of the most important buildings in America with hardly any police resistance, left five people dead, took selfies with police officers, and walked out without getting arrested.
“In one America, you get killed by sleeping in your car, selling cigarettes or playing in your backyard. In another America, you get to storm the Capitol, and no tear gas, no massive arrests, none of that.”
Jaylen Brown cites MLK’s two Americas in discussing breach of Capitol pic.twitter.com/YnJbOxqRd8
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 7, 2021
If you fail to see the connection between Black athletes and the insurrection on Capitol Hill, look harder. These athletes fought for democracy while bearing the burden of simultaneously playing basketball, and they won. The Democrats — and the democratic system as a whole — owe a lot to Black athletes, who helped Biden win the presidency and the Democrats win a majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, Trump and his followers put that same democracy in peril by cheating the system.
As Anne Applebaum writes in The Atlantic, “[The rioters] were part of an argument over the validity of democracy itself: A violent mob declared that it should decide who becomes the next president, and Trump encouraged its members… For a few hours, they prevailed.”
On top of threatening the democracy that athletes work so hard to keep intact, the way the police handled the insurrection compared to how they handled Black Lives Matters protests in the summer was another slap in the face to Balck athletes.
“The fact that people were allowed to basically rush and take over a building without any type of enforcement, and just doing whatever they want, if they were people of colour, I think it would’ve been a whole different situation,” Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said.
The insurrection on Capitol Hill was further proof that we need police reform — one of the main priorities the NBA and WNBA players have been advocating for — because it showed clearly that the police only exist to police one group of people (as they did in the BLM protests). Meanwhile, the other group is free to do as they wish and are even protected by the police while committing acts of domestic terrorism.
Plus, the differences in how the two different groups were talked about in the media and in the government was another striking example of racism in America. In the occasional situations where Black Lives Matter protests did get violent, the protesters were labelled as “thugs’ by the media and president alike. Meanwhile, Trump called the supporters who broke into the Capitol “lovely people” who he understands, and several media outlets labelled them as protestors rather than violent rioters.
“It just laid bare the blatant, dangerous, debilitating racism that is our country’s sin and has plagued us all these years,” San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich said of the inconsistencies in how the police handled the two situations. “There can’t be a better obvious example of a system that is not fair as far as justice and equal rights are concerned and [the] protection of citizens.
“It was just right in your face. And anyone that can ignore that is a shameful individual in my opinion.”