In the days since Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by white police in front of his young children, there has been a renewed wave of Black Lives Matter protests. The shooting occurred in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but similarly to the immense public outcry after the killing of George Floyd, protests have now spread far beyond the original flashpoint.
One of the most notable ripple effects has been the wave of professional athletes across multiple sports going on strike to protest the shooting. Players from the National Basketball Association, the Women’s National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer all went on strike, refusing to play games and calling out for justice. It’s a massive move considering how disrupted the year has already been due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a commendable show of solidarity (that’s v brave for an athlete in a single-player sport), tennis star Naomi Osaka also announced she wouldn’t play in the Western & Southern Open. “Before I am an athlete, I am a Black woman,” Osaka wrote in a note shared via her Twitter, “And as a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis. I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”
She absolutely started conversations. In fact, the world-ranking 22-year-old has been finding her voice throughout the year, flying to Minneapolis to protest for George Floyd and even writing a piece for Esquire to support the movement to defund the police.
As well as Osaka’s impressive stand against racism, the WNBA team The Washington Mystics also took a bold stance. The Mystics basketball team arrived at their game with shirts painted with seven bullet holes on the back (the same amount as Jacob Blake was shot with) to protest the continued racist police violence and racial inequality.
“We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA and will continue this conversation with our brothers and sisters across all leagues and look to take collective action,” the Atlanta Dream’s Elizabeth Williams said on behalf of the striking teams. “What we have seen over the last few months and most recently with the brutal police shooting of Jacob Blake is overwhelming and while we hurt for Jacob and his community, we also have an opportunity to keep the focus on the issues and demand change.”
Osaka has since come to an agreement and after a “lengthy consultation with the WTA and USTA” has agreed to play at their request. In a statement to The Guardian Osaka explained that “they offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement.”
Against the backdrop of the ongoing Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, Jacob Blake’s shooting is yet another reminder of how racial injustice is still causing violence, pain, and trauma to Black people. While some people might argue that politics and sport should be kept separate, these athletes are demonstrating how politics are an inextricable part of everything. If the U.S. wants to go back to enjoying the performances of Black athletes, it’s going to need to start listening to them as Black people.
Lead image via Naomi Osaka’s Instagram @naomiosaka.