Written by Alexis Barton
The year 2020 has been a year that no one saw coming. A pandemic that closed down colleges and universities, mass unemployment that put millions of Americans at risk, and a level of civil unrest that has not been seen in decades. As we attempt to put back the pieces to find our “normal,” athletes across the country are reminding us that some things will not and cannot go back to normal. Police brutality, systemic racism, and the importance of Black lives have been dominating our conversations, and for good reason. Fans and athletes alike are taking a stand to work to end racism in the United States.
During their return to play, the NBA gave players the opportunity to display a number of social justice-related phrases on their jerseys rather than their last names. “Say Her Name,” “Equality,” “Vote,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Speak Up,” and “How Many More” are replacing well-known names like Taytum, Antetokounmpo, and Bamba. Though this gesture serves an important purpose, many of the league’s most notable athletes have gone to say that these phrases are not just for a season, they are something that we have to live by. Los Angeles Lakers forward Lebron James went on to say, “It’s not a movement. When you’re Black, it’s not a movement. It’s a lifestyle… this is a walk of life. This is who we are.” James has been one of the most prominent players to help lead the league’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice issues.
Across the NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLB there were various stoppages in play during the week of August 28th in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI. Evander Kane, left wing for the San Jose Sharks and co-head of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, stated on Twitter that this is a time for professional leagues to prove that “human rights take priority over sports.” The actions of these professional athletes have sparked reactions from athletes all the way down to the high school and youth levels. Athletes have an enormous platform, and they are finally being allowed to fully use it as seen in even small ways, like the new jersey options in the NBA. As leagues continue their seasons, one thing is incredibly clear: some things are bigger than sports.