We all celebrated the return of professional sports, because they have always been a significant part of the fabric of the country. Once more we needed them, pleaded with them even, to return and give us a sense of normalcy, to help heal us at a time when a deadly pandemic had overwhelmed and devastated us and held us hostage.
Sports has also provided a platform for peaceful protest, from John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their right fists in a Black Power salute on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics, to Muhammad Ali refusing induction to the Army and losing three years of his prime, to the loudest boycott of them all, the United States refusing to participate in the 1980 Moscow Olympics in protest over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier, and 64 countries joining them.
But we have never witnessed the emotional tsunami that began rolling over the sports world the way it did on Wednesday afternoon and night.
The Orlando, Fla., NBA bubble fell silent when the Milwaukee Bucks — the home NBA office for the latest racial injustice, the shooting in the back on Sunday of unarmed black man Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. — started the dominoes falling, and falling hard, when they boycotted Game 5 of their playoff series against the Magic.
Then it was announced that LeBron James and the Lakers would not be dribbling against the Trail Blazers, and the Thunder would not be pick-and-rolling against the Rockets.
What was good for the goose was good for the gander. The WNBA marched out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Then the Milwaukee Brewers announced that they would put their bats and balls away and postpone their scheduled game against the Reds. Then the Mariners decided not to play against the Padres, and the Dodgers and Giants followed.
Their resounding statements were that racial justice has been postponed for far too long.
“It’s been a big issue for the last 400 years,” Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams said.
Inside socially distanced NFL facilities everywhere, players and coaches discussed the latest social injustice and police brutality and crying need for systemic change.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll acknowledged that four years to the day that Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem for the first time, the NFL could, pardon the expression, take a knee on any given Sunday in a show of support.
“Anything’s possible,” Carroll was quoted as saying. “This is a protest season.”
Kenny Smith, one of our own from LeFrak City, walked off the TNT set.
“As a black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight,” he said.
This is a powder keg time in a divided America, and what we are witnessing here and now is the sports world attempting to draw a line in the Black Lives Matter sand, black athletes sick and tired of being sick and tired, anguished that for so long their voices have not been heard.
The difference this time is that they have been joined in solidarity by white teammates and coaches and executives and owners — we see you, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — who now have more interest in listening to their horrific life stories.
The NBA players were thrilled they got to raise awareness by wearing “EQUALITY” or “SAY HER NAME” or “FREEDOM” on the back of their jerseys.
Then Jacob Blake was shot.
Enough was finally enough.
Villanova men’s basketball Coach Jay Wright tweeted: ACTION > Words.
When the NFL canceled its Week 2 games following 9/11, then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was right then as late NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was wrong for not canceling the games following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. And when sports came back, and when Mike Piazza hit his magical home run, New York cheered, and New York wept, and it seemed as if America was one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The sports world alone can’t make it that way again. Not right now. Not right away. But sports took a bullhorn on Wednesday and blared for all to see and hear that it will try, as never before.