Last Wednesday was historic. In the United States of America, courts were left abandoned and fields went un-played. Athletes took a step further from taking a knee to a full-blown work stoppage protest.
The strike was in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, who was shot by Kenosha, Wisconsin police in front of his children. Just months after the mass protests globally against police brutality on Black lives, professional athletes have taken a stand. These athletes who provide millions with high-quality entertainment, bravely decided they will not showcase their talents until the State ceased to gun down Black people in the streets.
In addition to the men’s National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, the protests were widespread across the women’s professional leagues.
Players across the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and tennis player Naomi Osaka refused to play. Naomi Osaka, of both Japanese and Haitian heritage, was due to play in the Western & Southern Tennis Open semi-final before she announced she would not play. Sitting out of the match could have prematurely ended her tournament but Osaka’s message resonated in the sport.
The organisers of the tournament got together and decided “to recognize this moment in time by pausing play at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday, August 27.”
Osaka wrote on Twitter, “Before I am an athlete, I am a Black woman. 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. I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport, I consider that a step in the right direction.”
Fellow professionals, including Andy Murray showed their support for Osaka’s stance. “Naomi had decided she was not going to play the following day and put out her statement, which I fully supported. I thought it was fantastic. She’s done extremely well,” said Murray.
When the tennis did resume back on Friday, Osaka walked out onto the spectator-less Grandstand , wearing a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt featuring the iconic clenched fist representing Black empowerment.
In addition to Osaka’s stance, the entire WNBA decided to pull out of the three games scheduled on Wednesday night.
Initially, WNBA champions, The Washington Mystics, arrived at the court preparing to protest with -T-shirts that spelled out “Jacob Blake” and seven bullet holes painted on the back. When the women’s league got word of the NBA players work stoppage, they met to decide whether to play. The initial plan was for the WNBA players to go ahead with their games as scheduled, but to stop play at the seven-minute mark of every quarter in protest. But the Mystics decided to fully withdraw and that sparked the domino effect throughout the league.
Women’s sport has a lot more to lose than their male counterparts. WNBA players make a fraction of the money that NBA players do. For them to take this stance poses risk to their careers and livelihood. Yet for strong and courageous women, it was a no-brainer. A sacrifice they were willing to make.
The united stance that athletes have taken — including women athletes — is telling of how powerful this movement really is. “This isn’t just about basketball… When most of us go home, we still are Black,” said Washington Mystics player Ariel Atkins.