by Revanth Rao
On Aug. 26, the NBA cancelled playoff games for three days after players decided to participate in a strike protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake. Blake, an African American man from Kenosha, WI, was shot seven times in the back by police officers while his children were watching. The NBA’s decision to protest caused a ripple effect, and leagues like the MLB and NHL followed the NBA’s lead and cancelled their games. Soon after, social media users were split on the matter, with some coming to the defense of the players and others condemning the players for protesting. Former Vice President Joe Biden showed his support for the players, saying they were “using their platform for good.” On the other hand, President Trump referred to the NBA as a “political organization.” It’s unsurprising that Americans are divided on the topic, but those criticizing the decision to protest don’t truly understand the reasons behind the player protests.
“Shut up and dribble,” was the line Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham used in response to NBA players who spoke on social and political causes. Ingraham’s statement largely sums up the views of those critiquing the players protesting games. “Just entertain us. Don’t bring politics into sports. Nobody cares about your opinion on these issues,” they say. However, they nodded along as President Trump called NFL players “sons of bitches” for kneeling, even going so far as to advocate for those players to be “fired.”
Hypocrisy aside, people criticising the NBA teams for protesting “the wrong way” ignores the fact that the way they protest is the way they believe raises the most awareness: by using their platform as athletes. As useful as helping out away from the court in the local community may have been for a player like LeBron James, he reached tens of millions more people by sitting out a few games. Making people uncomfortable and taking away their distraction and fun forces them to understand what he and his colleagues are fighting for.
NBA players have accomplished what athletes have been trying to do since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Similarly, people rebuked players for kneeling, claiming it was disrespectful to the flag and the military, even after players made it known that it was never about either of those things. What Kaepernick was asking the country’s police officers to do was not unreasonable. Essentially, he was asking them to stop killing people like him. End the unnecessary violence and find a way to diffuse the situation, regardless of the person. Beyond that, Kaepernick sent his message in a way the police didn’t: peacefully. The same can be said about today’s NBA players.
This feat is remarkable in a time when police, civilians, and even certain protestors resort to violence. Trump frequently launches into seemingly mindless Twitter tirades calling for “law and order” in an effort to keep protestors in check. Into this “lawless” void steps a 17 year old crossing state lines to murder Kenosha protestors, only to get a free pass from the police in a way no person of color would. And yet, athletes utilizing their 1st Amendment right to peacefully protest are doing it “the wrong way.”
Though the NBA protests are now over, criticism of the players is not. Despite the ongoing backlash, players received concessions that allowed them to promote social justice causes and urge people to register to vote during the very games they boycotted to help raise awareness. In addition, many basketball arenas will now become voting centers on election day, allowing more people to participate in the democratic process. Good for the players. Turns out the “wrong way” was in fact the “right way.” Shut up and dribble, indeed.