The Milwaukee Bucks’ boycott of an NBA playoff game — to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin — is a historic moment in American culture, instantly taking its place alongside such acts of conscience as Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in a “Black Power” salute at the 1968 Olympics, or Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the armed forces during the Vietnam War.
But the boycott also takes place on the third night of the Republican National Convention — which is expected to feature “law and order” themes in support of America’s police officers in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests.
Michael McHale, president of the National Association of Police Organizations, is one of the featured speakers. His group endorsed President Trump last month, citing Trump’s support “during this time of unfair and inaccurate opprobrium being directed at our members by so many.” Another speaker: Vice President Mike Pence, who once attended an NFL game for the express purpose of leaving when players kneeled during the national anthem to protest police violence.
Those speeches might look very different in light of the Bucks boycott, which was quickly joined by the other five NBA teams scheduled to play Wednesday and looks likely to spread even further. (The Milwaukee Brewers, Wisconsin’s MLB team, also decided not to play, a decision that was supported by their opponents, the Cincinnati Reds.)
Kneeling, wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts on the benches, and other visual tributes have all been standard practice in the NBA since “bubble” games started this summer after the death of George Floyd ignited a new round of BLM protests. Those gestures are no longer shocking. So there was a sense among players, after the shooting of Blake, that it was time for more dramatic action.
“At the end of the day, if we’re gonna sit here and talk about making change, then at some point we’re gonna have to put our nuts on the line and actually put something up to lose, rather than just money or visibility,” Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said Tuesday. “We’ve gotta take responsibility as well. Like, what are we willing to give up?”
By acting now, the NBA’s players offer a counterpoint to the GOP’s police-oriented themes tonight. They could also momentarily steal the spotlight away from Donald Trump. For this president, that might be the bigger offense. Joel Mathis