What’s Next? Athletes Are Faced With That Critical Question After Unprecedented Day in Sports

After players walked out on the playoffs, leaving The Bubble Courts empty, NBA players voted to return to the court and complete the postseason.
Image: (Getty Images)

After a critical mass of protests across the professional sports world in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the most pressing and powerful question that remains is represented in only two words.

What’s next?

This moment is certainly unprecedented, and it will be written in history books and taught in classes decades from now, but how can athletes truly transform this moment from simply being a factoid “Hey, remember that time … ?” to actually being impactful?

The NBA will not have any games on Thursday, but the players did decide to resume the playoffs and it’s likely the other leagues will follow suit in a similar fashion with their respective seasons.

ESPN’s Malika Andrews reported that the players decided to keep playing so they can continue to keep the focus on the movement, while the spotlight is upon them, and integrate their message into games and press conferences.

So where does that leave us?

The walkouts led by the players are admirable: We see the rightful pain and frustration that so many across the sports world have when it comes to issues involving systemic racism. But let’s be real with ourselves, these protests alone do not matter. They are simply thoughtful gestures at best if no tangible action is produced from them.

It was reported that the Milwaukee Bucks were on a conference call with the Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes during their time in the locker room instead of taking the floor to play.

Additionally, it was reported that the Bucks asked Barnes about tangible steps the team could take after the sitting out to try to ensure change. Barnes reportedly told the team that the best steps they could take would be to request “action at every level of government.”

Many other players around the NBA took to social media to voice their support of the Bucks and demand justice.

Wednesday night, the players had a meeting with their NBA Players Association reps that included coaches, and referees.

In that meeting, it was reported that arguably the two best teams in the league, the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, voted to sit out the rest of the playoffs and that Lakers star LeBron James, the face of the NBA for nearly two decades, led a mass exodus of players from the meeting.

Later, it was reported that James had a change of heart and decided that it was best for the players to finish the season. Yet, other reports have contradicted those made earlier and have said that LeBron James didn’t even speak in the meeting.

James has been one of the most vocal players on racial issues in the league’s history and has continuously put his money, resources, and time behind the fight for equality as well. His More Than A Vote initiative is currently fighting voter suppression and his IPromise school has helped bridge the educational gap in minority communities since its opening in 2018.

James tweeted his feelings Thursday afternoon, stating more than talk is needed to bring about change, pointing to his IPromise school.

He’s the perfect example of how players can create tangible and long-lasting change in their communities to combat systemic oppression. Many of these other players also have the resources to create generational change on the local, state, and national levels.

I understand everyone isn’t LeBron James and may not have the global cachet to make an impact on a national level but everyone can go back to their hometown and allocate the time, and resources to making their homes a better place for minorities.

New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday and his wife Lauren Holiday just recently announced a $5 million Social Justice Impact Fund to help communities in New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles, as well as some Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

It’s time for more players in all sports to put the work in on a grassroots level and create change one community at a time. These athletes are some of the top earners in their respective communities and have the pull to switch up the program.

Even if players around the professional sports world are reluctant to use their own resources to create change, their connections to these billion-dollar owners and top-level executives are golden.

If athletes put the pressure on team owners, and sponsors like Nike, Puma, Under Armour, and Adidas, to do even more and get involved in changing policy that disenfranchises certain groups then that could be monumental in catapulting change in this country.

It doesn’t even have to stop with sports companies, what about tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon who bring in billions upon billions each year? Athletes have the power to make them step up to the plate as well.

It’s no secret that in our capitalistic society money is the answer to everything. Put the resources where the problem is, force the most affluent and powerful to do the same, and it will result in change.

It’s that simple.

The players in the NBA could have decided to come back whenever they pleased. None of that really matters.

What matters at this moment is what is going to be produced by these players that we will look back on decades from now as one of the reasons that everything shifted in this country.

These protests are historic; the players have the right intention. They have the attention of the world now, but it’s time to take the next steps.

It’s about consistency.

It’s about dedication.

It’s about money and resources.

These athletes can lead this country in creating that change, and I can’t wait to see … what’s next?

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