The wildcat strikes that professional athletes engaged in as a form of protest on Wednesday were only able to occur because there were no fans in the stands due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The world of professional sports took a stand Wednesday evening in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin with teams from the NBA, WNBA and Major League Baseball refusing to play, postponing games.
The NBA bubble not only made it easier for players to come together on issues and present a unified message, but no one had tickets to these games. There's no element of kids coming out for their one game of the season with postponement making it impossible to see their favorite player or team live in person. No worry of fans coming out and paying for parking to find out the game isn't going to be played. No element of guilt. It's simply a television broadcast delayed to another day with minimal inconvenience.
The issues of police brutality against minorities and racial equality have been open wound in the country since its inception. NBA players were heavily involved in driving awareness when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012. From Eric Garner to George Floyd dying at the hands of law enforcement, players have tried to do as much as they could while playing to make a difference on this front.
Undoubtedly, there have been other times when players likely didn't want to play because of what's going on in the country in a given moment, trying to deal with the emotions of anger and despair in a country that continuously sends the message that racial equality is a lie. This is the first time they could engage in a wildcat strike that wouldn't punish fans who paid money for tickets, creating the possibility of significant blow back from the very people they want to reach with their message.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Brewers were the first teams to decide they wouldn't play Wednesday evening. The rest of the NBA, the entire WNBA and other Major League Baseball teams followed suit in a show of solidarity and recognition of this moment in time.
Now, there is a question as to whether the NBA playoffs will continue at all, which is only possible because of the pandemic. It's remarkable that it could be systematic racism that would cancel the NBA season with the pandemic creating the path as opposed to being the reason.
This was all happening as Texas and Louisiana were bracing for a massive hurricane that could have deadly implications as far as north as Arkansas, wildfires continue to rage in California and people in Iowa still recovering from massive storm damage. In a country with so many awful events occurring at the same time that are threatening the lives of its citizens, adding a significant element of racial strife after months of government inaction might simply be the straw that breaks the back of sports.
In a time when people should be banding together to get through a pandemic and natural disasters, athletes are seeing the worst of humanity and it's often being aimed at Black Americans.
Something that has been in the works for a while, the Cleveland Browns, Cavs and Indians have officially formed an alliance in an effort to generate a unified strategy to address social injustice in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio on Thursday. It's unclear how this will actually play out in practice, but it could be a positive development.
In the NFL, the Detroit Lions cancelled practice Tuesday due to the events in Kenosha. The Indianapolis Colts were the first team to announce they were cancelling practice on Thursday, but teams including Washington and the New York Jets have followed suit.
With games not played until September 10th, the NFL's timing may not line up in the same significant way with what's going on unless the threat to end the NBA postseason comes to fruition. NFL players have and will continue to make sure their voices are heard even if it doesn't rise to the level of a wildcat strike.
Professional athletes have tried all forms of non-violent protest over the years. Colin Kaepernick received scorn for taking a knee during the anthem over this very issue. LeBron James has been told to shut up and dribble. When sports represent an escape for so many given all that's going on in this country, only to have it taken away due to protest, it's that much more difficult to ignore their message.
None of this could happen if not for the failure of this country to properly combat COVID-19, so while there are people that want sports and politics to be separate, politics has impacted sports, which has now led to a situation where sports will try to impact politics. Will politicians listen? Will you?