Play or Protest? NBA Players Can Do Both With Help From the League

In recent days NBA players, led by Kyrie Irving, have voiced their concerns about returning to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fight against police brutality and racial injustice. 

Former NBA player and leading voice of protests, Stephen Jackson has said it’s not the time to be playing basketball. It’s a distraction and will take away steam from the movement everyone has collectively built. 

I understand where Jackson and Irving are coming from. This movement has the nation’s undivided attention, and real changes are happening because of it. Some of the games biggest stars have been walking through streets, side by side the common man, calling for justice.

The movement is far bigger than the game. But I feel as if those who share the opinion of Irving and Jackson may not be seeing the whole picture.

Imagine the scene before each game in Walt Disney World. Each player is wearing either an “I Can’t Breathe” or “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. The teams link arms and kneel. 

There is silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck before he tragically died. 

Imagine how powerful that moment would be. The entire sports world, and national media would have their eyes on that moment. There will be no fans in the stands, just the players, the ball, and their emotions. The NBA can give each player and team the time to speak up, to voice their thoughts on what’s happening.

Imagine LeBron James taking the mic at center court, speaking from the heart, asking for your help to fight racial injustice. Then one by one players and coaches, whoever has words to say, gets time to speak to a national audience.

This isn’t out of the realm of possibility. This isn’t the NFL who has long silence their players. Nor is it the same NBA who once silenced Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. The current NBA has stood side by side with the players for a long time now. Allowing the “I can’t breathe” shirts. Forcing racists Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers then banning him from the league. The NBA pushes diversity in coaching and front office positions.

In short, the NBA will support the players any way possible. 

How Players Can Use the NBA Platform

If there is a sport where the players have the power, it is the NBA. But even more so now during the current state of the country. So there is a way for the players to both play games and still get their messages across to the masses.

If the players return to play, they could demand a number of things to ensure their message will not be forgotten as they perform on the court.

For starters, a public service announcement about racial injustice and/or police brutality. It can be aired on TV and radio during time outs and game breaks.

With the games being held at neutral venues, the NBA can design the courts to honor the victims of police brutality. On each baseline, the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” or “I CAN’T BREATHE” can be printed in bold letters.

Viewers, those who both support the movement, and those ignorant people who don’t, will not be able to avoid the message the players want to speak and fight for. 

The NBA’s platform can be used to reach those who are turning a blind eye to the protests and speeches. It will reach the little white kids who have been sheltered from the movement and harsh reality of the world by their parents. When they turn on the TV to see their favorite athletes, they will see the names Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. It may be minor, but just the visuals and public service announcements that can run during game breaks, can have a profound impact on a young kid.

Remember NIKE and Jordan pledged a combined $140 million to organizations to fight racial injustice? How about the companies go a step further and do something in their wheel house. Make sneakers with a motive. Imagine a “I can’t breathe” pair of LeBron 17’s wondering a NBA Finals game. The proceeds could go to organizations fighting racial injustices.

All that is just scratching the surface. The quality and creative minds of players and league officials can come together to make even greater strides.

Closing Thoughts

I understand where Kyrie Irving, Lou Williams, and Stephen Jackson are coming from. I don’t even disagree with them when they say sports are on the back burner right now. But I am also aware of the platform the NBA can provide. Protests have not stopped nor slowed down, but media coverage has. They’re back on the Covid-19 wave, only pointing out the negatives that come from the protests.

The NBA platform will force the masses to see and hear the message. The ties of the league run deep, both socially and politically. With the backing of the league, more can get done.

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