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Untitled by Adio Royster

An Op-Ed about the NBA and WNBA’s response to the results of the grand jury in the Breonna Taylor case ..

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Ryan Stetz/NBAE via Getty Images

(As the “Senior Black Correspondent” at Liberty Ballers – I am the only person of color working as a staff writer, which is not any indictment of Liberty Ballers or its parent company VOX Media – I felt a responsibility to pen this column. I also wanted to make sure that I took the necessary time to put all of my feelings of anger and hurt in some kind of organized way. If you choose not to continue, that is your right, but hurtful comments are unnecessary and will not be tolerated by me, personally, on social media if you follow me.)

It’s all too familiar for myself and people of color these days. Once again, the justice system has failed us. This week, Kentucky Attorney General David Cameron reported on the grand jury indictment of the three police officers responsible for the murder of Breonna Taylor — a Black woman who was shot multiple times while in her home.

This event took place six months ago, and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis magnified this case to national attention. After six months of waiting, it was “business as usual”.

Cameron relayed the news that only one officer would be indicted in the murder, but the charges were for “wanton endangerment” as a result of firing shots into the homes of Taylor’s neighbors. No officers were charged with her murder. It was not shocking at all — which makes it even more frustrating.

Floyd and Taylor’s deaths have been the latest cases precipitating outcry for more accountability and police reform. The NBA has been more progressive than most leagues. Players were given the option to have special customized jerseys with messages like “Say Her Name”, “Justice”, or “Black Lives Matter”, for example.

When you watch NBA games from the bubble in Orlando, “Black Lives Matter” is literally on the court. Some may view these actions as “empty gestures”, but I am not one of those people. In a climate where no one really wants to have this conversation, NBA players do what they can to put this topic in the spotlight.

The reaction from NBA players on the verdict, yesterday, was what you would expect.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (who played college ball at the University of Louisville):

Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (another former Louisville Cardinal):

DeMarcus Cousins (played at the University of Kentucky):

… and LeBron James:

When Jacob Blake was shot multiple times by police officers in Kenosha, WI, NBA players decided to strike and show frustration in the lack of any accountability in the shooting. Last night was not the same, as Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals was played. Why not cancel this time? I really couldn’t tell you, and I don’t want to speculate. The ESPN broadcast was not without its moments of reflection.

Jalen Rose said this prior to tipoff of Game 4:

When Kyle Rittenhouse in Milwaukee as a 17-year old kills three people, but three cops aren’t directly charged with killing Breonna Taylor, it shows you how they feel about Black lives in America.

Rose had another moment at halftime when he said this going into a commercial break:

You can tell that was “off script” based on how quickly ESPN went to commercial.

As much as I don’t like the Boston Celtics, I have to say that I like Jaylen Brown for his continuing to speak out. Brown said this after Game 4:

To be honest, I wasn’t surprised by the verdict ... This society, the way it’s built, is not meant to protect and serve people of color. I knew the wrong decision would be made. Until we dismantle, recreate or change this system that we have, it will continue to have victims like Breonna Taylor and others that fall victim to oppression.

The NBA and its players have been progressive voices on this subject, but you can’t talk about them without pointing out that it was the WNBA that has led the way on political activism in professional basketball.

After the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, players from the Phoenix Mercury, New York Liberty and Indiana Fever wore “unsanctioned” Black Lives Matter warm-up shirts featuring the names of the victims. This resulted in a $500 fine for each player. WNBA players have continued to use their platform to speak out against police brutality, abortion rights, and gun violence.

This year, three WNBA players (including superstar Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx) took off from this WNBA season to focus on advocacy programs and initiatives. Their voices were just as prominently heard after the information from Cameron on the Breonna Taylor news.

Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm:

Lexie Brown of the Minnesota Lynx (who wears the name Breonna Taylor on her back):

Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty and the first Vice President of the WNBA Players Association:

These women and more like them have been laying the groundwork for what their male counterparts do in the NBA, now. When I say #RespectTheseWomen on social media, there is a solid reason why I do so.

I could not speculate why the NBA never took much of a progressive stance before the exponential increase over the last two or so years. The player base of the NBA is overwhelmingly tilted towards Black athletes. It would make absolute sense. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been mostly supportive on his league’s players participating in advocacy.

Silver cited rules that predate his rise to the commissioner chair (even before David Stern) in the wake of NFL players choosing not to stand for the national anthem, saying “the NBA had a rule on its books which was standing for the anthem”. However, Silver did follow that up saying he respects peaceful protests.

The above thought always leads me to this thought: why is it the responsibility of the oppressed to do the most work in battling their oppression?

In the 1960s, it was Blacks and the Civil Rights Movement. I’m sure when Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers were beginning to protest, they didn’t envision such harsh blowback for a concept as simple as “basic civil rights” — something that is granted to their White brothers and sisters at birth. King, Malcolm X and many others were on the streets grinding, dealing with racism, police officers, their dogs, and their fire hoses.

My brother and I say this frequently in the year 2020:

“Since when is not being unlawfully shot something that is up for debate? When did that become fair game?”

It’s not shocking to all of us that this is the era we live in — in the year 2020 (over sixty years later).

Women, another oppressed group for centuries, are still fighting for rights. They’re still fighting for equal pay. Women make 80 cents on the dollar (less than that if you’re a Black woman) compared to their male counterparts. Women continue to battle with a government that is so hell bent on rolling back reproductive rights to a Margaret Atwood/Handmaid’s Tale kind of society.

George Carlin has always said it best:

Why is it that most of the people who are against abortion are people you wouldn’t wanna f*** in the first place?

(SIDE NOTE: After reading and watching “The Handmaid’s Tale”, my female colleagues, friends, and total strangers will get all the help from me in taking down the patriarchy.)

In the WNBA, some players made the decision to not participate in seasons because they wanted to have children and start families — much to the (silly-ass) opinions of some fans on Twitter. Women don’t even have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies, anymore, and yet, there they are on the streets protesting and making it known that this isn’t how it’s going to go down.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community also know the struggle of having to do all of the legwork for their own rights and freedoms. The Stonewall Riots in 1969 in New York were some of the first, but then people like Harvey Milk in California became leaders in an effort to try and fix things from the inside. Milk was assassinated in 1978, but people in that oppressed group continue to fight for things like being able to get married or simply being able to have a job without fear of discrimination.

There are no out-and-proud active members of the NBA, but eight were in this past year’s WNBA All-Star game:

  • Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics)
  • Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury)
  • DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix Mercury)
  • Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky)
  • Chelsea Gray (Los Angeles Sparks)
  • Natasha Howard (Seattle Storm)
  • Candice Dupree (Indiana Fever)
  • Allie Quigley (Chicago Sky)

We live in a time where the myth that a well-reasoned and well-spoken argument is enough to sway an oppressor. Words have fallen on deaf ears for over a decade. Some are more radical than I when it comes to “what do we do”.

Sports and politics/activism have been in bed together since the 1960s. Athletes like Muhammad Ali and Juan Carlos used their platforms to speak out against injustice. It gives me great pride that the sport that I write about and love more than any other sport (basketball) has continued this tradition even with the Laura Ingraham’s of the world telling them to “shut up and dribble”.

Athletes in the NBA and WNBA using their platforms to send these messages are extremely important. Their words carry more weight because of the positions they are in. These messages are necessary because so many oppressed and disenfranchised people lack the three things that this country were founded upon:

Life — Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others do not have their lives.

Liberty — The country they lived in does not seem to value their lives the way others are valued.

The Pursuit of Happiness — How can the oppressed and disenfranchised be happy living in a country where they lack rights and protections to be or feel happy.

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