Many Major League Baseball teams, including the San Francisco Giants, refused to play baseball today. They joined the most powerful labor movement in American sports history. What follows remains uncertain, but August 26, 2020 will define the United States of America.
The San Francisco Giants have won seven straight games. They have clawed their way out of the NL West cellar into the postseason picture. None of that matters right now.
Teams and players in the WNBA, NBA, MLS, and MLB have joined in a wildcat strike following the attempted homicide of Jacob Blake by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Other notable athletes like tennis star Naomi Osaka are participating as well.
Still, this began when hundreds of predominantly Black athletes refused to play any scheduled games, even when some did not receive the support of their coaches and teammates.
Professional sports leagues have had protests. These leagues have had strikes. Today, they intersected. The protest became a strike and the strike became a protest.
The outcome is unknown and will depend on the choices of those participating.
Will these groups remain united in pursuit of specific goals? Will they pursue a liberal, policy-focused governmental outcome? Will they pursue a cultural shift? Or are they simply showing the world the power they have to wield?
There are as many questions surrounding the rest of society. How will leagues and team ownership react? How will the media shape the narrative? How much will those who inevitably attempt to co-opt any movement succeed in doing so?
The answers will determine how we remember the days to come.
Yes, regardless of the outcome, we will remember the days to come.
This is not about the game. This is about the power the game creates. A power that has always been there, palpable, waiting for someone to wield it for the people. Paul Robeson, Craig Hodges, Maya Moore, Colin Kaepernick, and countless others have tried to grab it. They have succeeded at times, they have failed at others. But that was secondary to the glimpse into the potential power athletes could have if they united.
The power resided in every burned jersey, boo, or jeer. The power was in every championship parade, chant, or cheer. The power was in every reserve clause, color line, and pay inequity. The power was in the flyovers, national anthem, reunited military families, and first-responder days.
The power has been wielded time and time again against the players. The power has been wielded time and time again adjacent to the players.
Today, they took it back.
In the film, High Flying Bird, Ray Burke, an NBA agent maneuvers through a difficult labor dispute between the league and its players. He uses one of his clients, a recent first-round pick named Erick Scott, to create interest in a 1-on-1 basketball league.
At the film’s climax, concerned about the potential power of Burke’s startup, the league relents to player demands. The labor dispute ends and the 1-on1 league never plays a game. It’s later revealed to have been Burke’s plan all along.
After the settlement, he admits an ulterior motive to his mentor (Spence), “I just wanted to snatch the game out they [white corporate ownership’s] hands for a minute… I just wanted to hold it for a second.”
Like Burke, the players have the game in their hands. He had it for financial leverage, they have it for justice.
In response to Burke’s admission, Spence asks, “How do you show a man his humanity?” Burke responds, “You remind him of his mortality.”
The film is a late-stage capitalist critique with direct racial commentary, but the final line of the exchange defines today’s conflict.
Policing in America was designed to wield white supremacy. The attack on Jacob Blake was another example America’s use of power to attack Black humanity.
Today’s wildcat strike is the next iteration of the movement born four years ago today when Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and it’s disproportionate impact on Black people.
Athletes in America showed us today that the power has always been with the people.
There will be competing ideas. People will want different outcomes or prefer different strategies. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, some NBA players are already divided on continuing their season.
As with any movement, there may come a time to be critical. Its ideology, method, and end goal are still forming. They want justice for Jacob Blake, but they want much more too.
Whatever happens moving forward, they have achieved the hardest part. Even if they just want to hold the power for a day to remind those who claim to have control that it can always be revoked. Power is always in the hands of the people.
The date is August 26, 2020. A protest became a strike and a strike became a protest and the athletes were not the athletes, but the people of the United States of America. The people… they will define the future if enough can remain united, hold the power, and wield it for justice.