For the past six years, the NBA has bathed in the congratulations of compromise, the model for communicating with commissioner players. With the removal of racist former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the players and the league could demand satisfaction. The voice was heard so powerfully that for the first time in the history of the sport an owner fell. They did not threaten to play in the playoffs if Sterling remained, and the new commissioner, Adam Silver, agreed.
The commissioner gained the confidence of the players, kept the playoffs intact and used competent diplomacy, telling his bosses that he could approach the players in a line while preventing them from crossing.
Six years later, when a whole slew of playoff games were canceled because players refused to play in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, another truth emerged: In Survival of Sterling, as the faction that felt basketball was irrelevant after the assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis and that the players should not play, the league had simply been given a reprieve.
The Milwaukee Bucks ran out. The Orlando Magic followed. So did the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. The WNBA players ran out, but not before collecting white and talking and sporting T-shirts, each designed with a letter of Blake’s name on the front and seven bullet holes on the back – the number of times and the location where Kenosha police shot Blake.
The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, of staid, 7.7% Black Major League Baseball, ran out. The two-time big winner and former no. 1 women’s tennis player Naomi Osaka pulled out of the Western & Southern Open, all on the fourth anniversary of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee in the presidency NFL game – and the NBA led it. In retrospect, the sport that is traditionally closest to revolution ultimately confrontation during the Sterling saga in 2014 did not occur as much as it delayed what turned out to be the inevitable.
The United States has come out on top, its account of the disproportionate use of force by the police against its Black citizens sharply expressed in sports because of its influential Black population and the sector’s reaction to its Black lawyer, symbolic of Kaepernick’s banishment , but also because of the hostile climate around them.
Above all – the passive-aggressive questions about what goes out will prove how people will never see the NBA again – is threatening, questions less seeking enlightenment, but designed to diminish the players, to question and deny their authenticity they of every thought of self-determination. There is no citizenship among their tank tops, let alone humanity. You are here to entertain us. No, you are literally here to entertain us. That’s your job.
Beneath that layer of threat is more threat, that is to say you can be better grateful there are people who are ready to see, because if we do not see, you are back to being nothing. The message, of course, is to remind these Black players how precarious their positions are, to let them go in case they forget how thin the margin is, that any mistake, injury or arrest, setback or protest can put you off again. the rest. Never forget who you owe.
Yet everyone in America knows exactly what the players are feeling right now, because they have felt it themselves, when the pain that lives deep rises and paralyzes them – body, heart, mind – and playing a game really does not matter out, Nothing at all feels that it matters. We remember that from September 11th. We remember that from the Boston Marathon bombing. We remember that when family and the closest people die with us. We remember that when the constant racism breaks our heart, and then our back. Going to work does not matter. It’s just not that important. There is no doubt that many people have felt it in the more hopeless moments of the coronavirus pandemic, where it is difficult to see a future around the corner.
“Before I became an athlete, I was a black woman,” Osaka said. “And as a black woman, I feel like there are much more important things at hand that need attention, instead of me watching tennis.”
Naomi Osaka made her decision not to play after the NBA canceled her games, and in her words lay a powerful possession of property, both that she dictates the terms of who can see her and when, and her belief that she will not contribute to the distraction away from where American attention should be.
In the spirit of diminution, people have rapidly analyzed the analogies; that a terrorist attack is not even in the same universe of a man suspected of a crime who did not obey the order and was shot down by the state because they may be legally licensed to do so. It is an argument to discredit the players without considering the concept of accumulation. There is no place in America where murder is more frequent, more personal and more repetitive then the murder and assault of Black people by police.
It is the pornography of the day, shared from Twitter to Instagram to Facebook, abused thousands of times, millions of views, dashcam and circumstantial videos that are broadcast so often that it is possible to see Black people being murdered several times a day , besieged by police. It is spread by the allies who want to show some kind of solidarity with Black pain without necessarily seeing the traumatic effect on a Black person of seeing and re-seeing the state killing them, by the furious tiredness of telling that America is post-race, and by the antagonists in search of an opportunity to tell Black people that they deserve the bullets they receive – but the one constant is the ready availability of images of Black people dying. America has been fighting war for almost 20 years in a row, but military death is hidden from the public. Images of deadly force on African Americans are as common as lunchtime.
It is through this lens, the exhausted lens of accumulation, heard in the emotional exhaustion of Clippers coach Doc Rivers ‘voice, and the quavering sadness of TNT’s Chris Webber and the tears, broken faces of the Washington Mystics where’ t the negotiable choice was not for play.
The most powerful companies in this country have said that these routine encounters have become unacceptable, so it is no shame for the leagues that the players have chosen not to play, but fully appropriate, a demand of promise. The message that players sent was not that point guards are now moonlighting as legislators, but literally their humanity must come first – that this Black is alive literally case.
In the weeks since the death of George Floyd, a sneaking belief grew in prominence that the moment had become co-opted, performative, corporatized. The image of Jacob Blake being shot seven times in the back provided a reminder that this is not a market opportunity.
The result is a group of overwhelming Black men and women who have decided to tie the rhetoric into a primary question: They will be allowed to admire for their amazing athletic gifts, but their humanity is belonging to those gifts. They exist not only for the entertainment of the audience, especially a white audience that often seems to thrive on diminishing Black pain. As a job, yes, the players provide entertainment. As humans, no. This is the bargain. The accumulation of what is happening to Black people in this country is real, comes at a real cost. The pain is real. The responsibility is real.
And within those realities, the players’ refusal to play has changed the deal. Unlike 2014 and the years that followed, players sent a message: For an audience that expects performance while being indifferent or hostile to the bodies living in the jerseys, they will be seen in full dimension, or, sometimes , not at all ,