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Black Lives Matter: Milwaukee Bucks Trigger a Sea of Protests Across NBA and American Sporting Sphere

The Milwaukee Bucks, among the favourites for the NBA title, refused to take to court for their playoff game against Orlando Magic, effectively conceding it but also kickstarting a wave of withdrawals in protest of Jacob Blake’s shooting in Wisconsin.
Milwaukee Bucks boycott NBA playoff in protest of shooting of Jacob Blake

Following withdrawal by Milwaukee Bucks, NBA and administrators across other professional leagues in the US, have belatedly followed their athletes’ statements, cancelling and postponing games and fixtures till further notice.

Two time Grand Slam champion, Naomi Osaka pulled out of the Western and Southern Open earlier today, as protest against the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Osaka’s announcement, made via Twitter, followed the standard set by the NBA team Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the day. 

In a nuanced and well written statement, explained her stance and also set a standard for other tennis players to follow. "As a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis." 

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Osaka has been at the forefront of Black Lives Matter protests and has in the past said that the voices of prominent athletes are more influential than politicians for such matters. She further said she is determined to get her voice heard in matters of racial injustice, after facing a lot of flak for her support of the protest. 

Following her withdrawal, organisers of the WTA Western & Southern Open have suspended the tournament till Friday.

"As a sport, tennis is collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust to the forefront in the United States," the statement said.

The recent wave of protests have been sparked by the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man who was shot in the back by the police seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Protesters have condemned the sluggish action to find justice in the incident. Protests in various parts of the USA, including Portland, Oregon and in Minneapolis, Minnesota — some of which turned out to be violent — have left 2 dead and one person critically injured.

NBA Cancels Games

Osaka’s withdrawal from the Western & Southern Open was one among a series of such athlete boycotts from sporting events over the past few hours. It was the Milwaukee Bucks who kickstarted it all, boycotting Game 5 of their first round playoff series against Orlando Magic yesterday. Blake’s killing happened in Kenosha, just 40 minutes from Milwaukee. 

In the start of a series of events, the reigning MVP of the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo left the locker room, walked to the courtside, but did not do any practice drills before the game. A few minutes later, he returned to the locker room to his teammates. The Bucks did not emerge from there for the next five hours. 

The Bucks spoke with Wisconsin government officials during their lengthy locker room meeting, and in particular the state attorney general, in order to get answers and suggestions on how to force immediate change.

Following the Milwaukee Bucks’ boycott of their game, the domino effect saw the NBA announce a postponement of all fixtures. These included, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers. 

"Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we've seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protestors," the Bucks players said in a statement. "Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball."

“The baseless shootings of Jacob Blake and other black men and women by law enforcement underscores the need for action,” the NBA Coaches Association said in a statement. “Not after the playoffs, not in the future, but now.”

The Bucks’ stance was the first time a team has boycotted a game because of social injustice. The closest parallel can be made with the Boston Celtics in 1961, whose black players refused to play an exhibition game in Kentucky, after they were refused service in a restaurant in the city. The team though, did play on, with seven players.

WNBA Players Boycott Games

WNBA players also chose not to play games scheduled for August 26.

After the NBA players' collective decision to put their season on hold, players of the Washington Mystics decided they will not play either.

After the Mystics announced their decision to not play, players of the league's other five teams who were scheduled to play on Wednesday joined the boycott. The Atlanta Dream, Connecticut Sun, Phoenix Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks, and Minnesota Lynx players joined Washington.

"We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA," WNBPA Secretary and Atlanta Dream player Elizabeth Williams said in a statement announcing the players' decision. "We will continue this conversation with our brothers and sisters across all leagues and look to take collective action."

The league confirmed later that the games are postponed, not canceled. But, like the NBA, the future of the 2020 WNBA season is in the hands of the players, who, at the moment, seem unlikely to hit the court.

MLS Games Also Called Off

Five Major League Soccer (MLS) games were called off as players joined the protests against racial injustice in America.

In a statement the league condemned racism and inequality saying, "Major League Soccer has made the decision to postpone the remaining five matches -- Miami-Atlanta, Dallas-Colorado, Real Salt Lake-LAFC, San Jose-Portland, LA Galaxy-Seattle -- scheduled for this evening. Each match will be rescheduled."

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In a statement issued in support of the players, Atlanta United said "We stand in solidarity with the Black community, with our players, our city and our fans in the fight against injustice. We must use our voices to be the change."

The MLS Players Association also tweeted in response to the National Basketball Players Association, "We stand with you. #JusticeForJacobBlake".

In India, meanwhile, athletes have so far shied away from taking any stance for social causes. Their protests have bordered on the absurd because of their pettiness. Olympic bronze medallist and BJP party member Saina Nehwal has refused to go into the national camp in Hyderabad, reportedly unhappy that her husband, the shuttler Parupalli Kashyap was not included in the list of Olympic probables. They are both professional athletes. 

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