Basketball Fans Must Express Their Support Beyond the Court

Sports have rightfully taken a backseat to the voices of many millions calling for social change.

As demonstrations and protests continue after the horrific death of George Floyd, we are reminded by our black brothers and sisters that his is just one of so, so many lives extinguished by protected hatred in the United States.

While the national discourse around race relations, modes of protest and political conditions rage on, many NBA and WNBA athletes are using their platforms to speak out. Many, like Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Bria Hartley are on the front lines, marching with protestors.

Many others are weighing in on social media or via public speeches, such as the astoundingly powerful message Stephen Jackson recently gave with activist Tamika Mallory in Minneapolis.

Weighing in on race is not a political statement, it’s a humane one.

Yet, most corporations work to avoid publicly taking a stand out of fear for driving away business from those who disagree. But to avoid speaking at all against racism shows the privilege afforded by not being personally targeted because of one’s race.

I’m humbled to have an editorial staff not only empathetic enough to grieve with the black community during this time, but that allows its writers the leeway to speak as well.

Though this platform has been designed to “focus on our love of the game of basketball”, we as a group have collectively understood that such a stance is both impossible and inappropriate at the moment.

Because basketball doesn’t matter right now.

Over the past several years, there has been a noticeable backlash on athletes who use their platform to speak either politically or for social activism. Arguments for that position all circle back to a similar “stick to sports, stay in your lane” desire from the dissenters.

That is typically a rather obvious mechanism of delaying and distracting from any responsibility to grapple with the issue of racism. It is a clear sign of being part of the problem.

Because we as fans consume sports as a mode of entertainment, we often think we are able to turn off the channel when the social commentary becomes too loud. Access through Twitter and other online platforms lets us tell athletes directly when we disagree and just what we expect from them.

To all who expect journalists, athletes, owners or anyone else to silence their platform on these issues: Remember that you cannot have it both ways.

We cannot celebrate the successes of black athletes while simultaneously seeking to silence their pain.

To truly care about black athletes is now to embrace their pain and share in their grieving and disgust.

Right now, their suffering is still not actively heard loud or wide enough. And the onus is on all of us who don’t directly share those experiences to make sure we don’t minimize them.

We have an issue in this society that requires empathy to solve and is perpetuated by the lack of it. Back in 2015, a social study denoted that 74.4 percent of the NBA is black. Three of every four players.

So even if you were hoping to just consume basketball and tune out social agendas, your fandom doesn’t work that way. Racism is an existential threat to the league, whether you want to admit it or not.

The more it permeates our society, the greater it impacts the league we love and the players we idolize.

I’m not here to try and surmise what life is like in black America. I’ll never know that pain from injustice or the fear of prejudice. What I do know is that our support for black athletes cannot be conditional on how silent they are on social issues.

Even where we do not share direct pain, we cannot turn a blind eye to it. Otherwise, there is no platform left that can make positive change.

We all can do better. We have to.


Joel C. Cordes contributed to this post.