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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, February 23, 2024

In the Paint: Basketball players' support for Black Lives Matter

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month by highlighting the voices of Black individuals, let’s look back at some of the loudest voices in basketball and their contributions toward the Black Lives Matter movement this past year. 

When protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other lives lost due to police brutality took place  across the country this past summer, the NBA and WNBA wondered whether finishing their seasons was the right priority. After much debate, both leagues decided to carry out the playoffs in their respective bubbles, vowing to use their platforms for social activism. 

Players stood firm in their beliefs even when the NBAlost support and viewership from Republicans who felt that sports players should stay out of politics. Although viewership during the COVID-19 pandemicdeclined across all sports for a number of reasons, 70% of Republicans said they were less likely to watch sports due to players’ social justice stances, according to aMarist Poll. Donald Trump and other right-wing politicians such as Ted Cruz alsopublicly denounced the NBA. Despite this, NBA and WNBA players continued to kneel during the national anthem to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. NBA players could choose between several social justice messages to put on the back of their jerseys and WNBA players wore similarly powerful messages on and off the court. 

Following the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, when the basketball playoffs were in full swing, teams scheduled to play in the NBA and WNBA boycotted their games. Aside from using their national platforms to promote social justice, the WNBA played a role in flipping the 2020 Georgia Senate race to elect Democrat Raphael Warnock. Amid their seasons in August, the Atlanta Dream and Phoenix Mercury players were already spreading the message by wearing shirts that said “VOTE WARNOCK.”

The players’ decisions to support Warnock were deeply personal, as Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler was the incumbent Republican senator in Georgia and has long criticized the WNBA’s outspokenness in support of  the Black Lives Matter movement. Players like Elizabeth Williams, Chennedy Carter and Sue Bird publicly spoke about their endorsement inseveral interviews. Even Warnock acknowledged that the WNBA’s support was “one of the many turning points in the campaign,” in an interview withUSA Today. The WNBA generated momentum and drove donations to Warnock’s campaign, helping elect the first Black senator in Georgia. 

Many generous players have also made significant donations toward social justice. One notable example is Milwaukee guardJrue Holiday and his wife Lauren Holiday, former member of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. In December, the couple announced that they were donating the remainder of their 2020 salaries to Black-owned businesses and nonprofits. 

NBA and WNBA players, who play within leagues that are majority Black, have shown their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and Black community this past year. They have established themselves as leaders.