It started with the Detroit Lions canceling their practice on Monday.
By Tuesday, the NBA called off the day’s playoff games.
By the end of the week, all professional sports leagues were affected.
Was it some massive coronavirus super-spreading event, spanning states, leagues and sports?
In many ways, it was something worse.
Professional athletes have always been leaders in our society. Our children grow up emulating them. Many of us derive much of our entertainment from watching sports. It’s a major part of our collective, American identity.
And this week, it was athletes and coaches who said enough is enough.
For too long we have tolerated separate but equal treatment of some of our citizens. Namely, we have allowed Blacks to be treated like second-class citizens—or worse. We have tolerated police mistreatment of Blacks, including, all too often, murder.
In white America, we’ve mostly turned a blind eye to these unfortunate events.
But this week, the athletes and the sports we love told us to stop and listen.
The Milwaukee Bucks made the boldest move, going on strike on Tuesday instead of playing their playoff game with the Orlando Magic.
In effect, what they said was, “We are not going to sit here and entertain you on television every night while our people are being shot by police.”
The Bucks had the leadership and the courage to help America understand the moment we find ourselves in.
Other NBA teams quickly followed. Over coming days, players, coaches and league officials held meetings and conversations about whether they should even continue to play out the rest of the playoffs.
The NBA has been the most outspoken league in recent years about causes like Black Lives Matter and other social justice initiatives. But this year, given the events of the spring, including the murder of George Floyd, they took it to another level. They made it clear that they were going to use their platform to try and make positive changes in our society.
This week, if they hadn’t already, they got our attention. Their courage spread to other leagues, including stalwarts such as MLB and NHL.
Now, athletes choosing not to play for a few days is not going to eliminate systemic racism or police brutality towards Black Americans.
But it’s a great place to start. It’s a way to tell America that it is no longer acceptable to brush these societal problems under the rug. It’s a way to say “This is not okay anymore!”
As anyone who has reflected on racism in America in recent months knows, things will not be changed overnight. The problems are too widespread, infecting almost every aspect of our society. Slavery existed in the “New World” for close to 400 years. We can’t expect it to be erased overnight. It’s going to take work, real work. It’s not going to be easy.
But what our role models told us this week is, the time is now to start moving forward. And that may be the greatest play of all time.