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NBA’s Bucks and MLB’s Brewers strike games to demand justice for Jacob Blake

Commentary by staff |
August 27, 2020
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Milwaukee, WI - Professional athletes have always been engaged in politics because sports, like everything else, cannot be removed from the broader political environment. Black athletes like Colin Kaepernick joined their voices with the Black Lives Matter movement in 2016, condemning the epidemic of police crimes impacting oppressed communities. The movement of athletes taking a knee swept across the country and across sports, from professional football to soccer and everywhere in between.

Since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, professional athletes have returned to the national spotlight for their activism. In Milwaukee, members of the Bucks, the city’s professional basketball team, have been engaging with the local protests. They marched in June in the initial wave of protests when crowds of thousands were regularly in the streets.

On August 26, the Bucks made another political statement, this time in the wake of the attempted police murder of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. Instead of coming out onto the court for game five of their play-off series, the players remained in the locker room and announced that they would not be taking the court for the game. Instead, they were sending a message to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul to arrest and charge the officers involved in the attempt on Blake’s life. Their opponents, the Orlando Magic, also did not take the court. They announced they would be leaving the stadium shortly and would not accept the forfeit.

Upon learning of their pro basketball colleagues taking a stand, Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers decided that they too would sit out their scheduled game tonight against the Cincinnati Reds. Like the Magic, the Reds have also announced they’ll not be playing, meaning the Brewers will not be forced to forfeit the game. There is speculation in the sports media world that more baseball games may be cancelled in solidarity with the demand for justice for Jacob Blake. The Seattle Mariners, which have the most Black players of any team in professional baseball, are a likely club to employ similar tactics.

An important political point that is being missed in most coverage of this action is that this is not a boycott of a game. Professional athletes, although they are very well paid, are at the end of the day workers like most people. By refusing to participate in the play-off game and instead use the time to demand Attorney General Kaul take action, the Bucks players are withholding their labor, effectively striking to demand justice for Jacob Blake.

This is not just an important cultural demonstration by professional athletes, but an example of worker power in solidarity with Black lives. As people across the United States refuse to accept the continued police occupation of their communities and the murders that often follow, workers - whether they’re professional athletes or rank-and-file union members - need to show out in solidarity to demand justice.

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