Black players matter.
They mattered when they knelt to protest police brutality.
They mattered when they decried the killing of George Floyd.
They have raised fists and boycotted anthems and broadcast their grief, but sadly they may never have mattered as much, in terms of social impact, as they did on Wednesday.
The Milwaukee Bucks refused to participate in a playoff game because police officers in Kenosha, Wis., shot a Black man seven times in the back while his children watched.
Three NBA playoff games were postponed by the players.
The WNBA, leaders on social justice all along, decided not to play.
The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds became the first Major League Baseball teams to boycott a game in support of social justice. Two more baseball games followed, along with five MLS matches.
Oh, and the NHL threw a few words on a scoreboard.
You didn’t like Colin Kaepernick kneeling?
If you are an American sports fan, you may soon yearn for the days when Black athletes confined their civil disobedience to the few minutes in which the national anthem is played.
To the racists in American media who have told LeBron James and his peers to shut up and dribble, they offered a response on Wednesday: Shut up and be decent, for once, or the games will come to a screeching halt.
It’s hard to overcome 400 years of slavery, disenfranchisement, lynchings, beatings, state-sponsored killings, oppression and pervasive discrimination, but Black athletes have become the faces and engines of billion-dollar industries. We learned on Wednesday that they are unafraid to wield their power in defiance of a police state and an administration allied with white supremacists.
The Milwaukee Bucks started the avalanche, refusing to walk to the court for tipoff.
The WNBA defending champion Washington Mystics arrived wearing shirts that spelled out the name of Jacob Blake, the man shot seven times by Kenosha police. The backs of their shirts bore seven ersatz bullet holes.
This all came a day after the Detroit Lions protested as a team outside of their facility.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, one of the most respected figures in sports, said what every Black American must be thinking, again, this week:
“We keep loving this country,” Rivers said. “And this country does not love us back.”
Unless they’re dribbling.
Which is why, on Wednesday, they refused to dribble.
The WNBA has long insisted on highlighting examples of racism and police criminality, and Lynx players and coaches have insisted on demanding police reform and justice for state-sponsored killings.
“Things haven’t changed very much outside of the bubble,” Reeve said Wednesday night, as WNBA teams gathered on court in solidarity and her team’s game against Los Angeles became postponed.
“ ‘Not one more’ is how we feel,” Reeve said.
A Minneapolis cop knelt on Floyd’s neck in broad daylight until he was dead.
As if to make some sort of sick point about the unfettered power of American cops, Kenosha police officers handed bottles of water and offered appreciative words to armed white supremacists during the Black Lives Matters protests.
When one of the white supremacists killed two people with an AR-15, he was arrested as if he had done nothing more than jaywalk.
When Kaepernick took a knee, four years ago, the NFL blackballed him, and some NFL owners have continued to kowtow to Donald Trump and his overt racism.
The NBA faces a different kind of challenge. If the best players strike, the NBA will lose ratings and money. Kaepernick should have had a job in the NFL, but he didn’t drive ratings. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo drive ratings.
The NFL has Black stars. The NBA can’t even field teams without Black players.
Lynx assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson wrote on Twitter, “When kneeling isn’t getting it done, Stand Up!”
Athletes, teams and leagues other than the NHL are bravely standing up to institutional racism and police brutality, just as the Lynx did in 2016.
This time, they may make a noticeable difference.
Because this time they’re threatening their bosses’ money.